HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >

Discussion

Real Italian Food Vs. American Italian Food

What distinguishes these two, really? With Chinese food, it's a bit obvious, with nearly everything sweet, and Indian food tends to lack the spice it typically does, but what about Italian? What is considered American Italian and what's actually Italian?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. American Italian is cooked by 3rd generation descendants of Sicilian immigrants. Real Italian is cooked by people who spent a year abroad in Milan during college. :)

    17 Replies
      1. re: lynnlato

        Lol! Perfect! I once had my brother-in-law, Irish-American, explain to me how food was cooked in the Italian home. He spent a semester abroad in Italy.

      2. re: paulj

        Swap Sicily for Naples and I'm with you. The majority of Italian-Americans are of Neapolitan descent.

        1. re: southernitalian

          Really? I thought Sicilian heritage predominated.

            1. re: anonymouse1935

              Interesting. I just did an extremely quick (two minute) google and from what I could discern, the majority of Italians who immigrated to the south of the US (specifically to New Orleans), were Sicilians. The northern cities, particularly NYC and Chicago, were predominantly from the region around Naples. Guess that's why almost every Italian-American I know and am related to is of Neopolitan descent.

              1. re: southernitalian

                I find your 2 minute search interesting. I grew up in Brooklyn (Boro Park) and went to jr high/high schools in Bensonhurst. All my Italian friends were 2nd generation of Scilian folk. All 3 schools were 1/2 Italian, 1/2 Jewish (nominal amount "other").

                1. re: southernitalian

                  Whereas most Italians on the West Coast are from Northern Italy. So you can't really categorize it.

                  1. re: EatingSF

                    Yes, I think a great many of N. California Italians originated in Liguria,

                    I lived in Brooklyn as a kid -- my much older sister married into a Sicilian family -- the dad had the last working "farm" in Brooklyn, two whole entire blocks of veggies.

                    1. re: EatingSF

                      San Francisco has more Northern Italians--my family are from Florence, Parma, Genoa and up the hill from La Spezia, but plenty of Sicilians were fishermen here, too. My great grandfather had a vegetable farm in SF before the '06 quake. Not only that, but SF Italian Americans eat SOUR DOUGH BREAD. It wasn't until I went to Italy that I realized that Italians don't eat sour dough. Having grown up in SF, i assumed everyone ate it. Now that authenticity rules in Italian restaurants around here, you can't get sour dough in an Italian restaurant -- too bad.

                      1. re: dianelivia

                        But Italians, from what I understand, use a "biga" in their breads which is a somewhat fermented dough. It's not sourdough but does enhance the flavor of breads.

              2. re: paulj

                Real Italian food is cooked by Italians who are born and raised in Italy.

                1. re: kappasan9

                  If you are in eating out in Italy you are eating food cooked by Albanians, Romanians, and other immigrants. I still consider it Italian food.

                  1. re: bookhound

                    +1. A brief look at the history of modern Italy tells us this!

                    1. i sometimes think about the question, too. and it is a little difficult for me to put my thought into writing.
                      i believe that any cuisine should be thought along with its history and its nature of people (in this case italians.) italians are known for their skills. you know renaissance, da vinci, and many other artists and craftsman. that spirits is what makes italian cuisine so great, i believe. modern italians try to keep the tradition.
                      american italians are also good. but they substitute a lot of ingredients, i think.
                      i actually want to hear if real italians like american italian food. or what they think of american italian.

                      1. American Italian food is the food of the southernmost part of Italy, tweaked to accommodate our love of meat and sweet. The cooking of other regions of Italy can certainly be found here, but it's not what I'd call "American Italian."

                        1. For me, American Italian cuisine is exemplified by pasta dishes tend to be drenched in too sweet sauce made with whatever tomatoes and too much cheese on top. Plus the pasta is overcooked until limp and dead. Real Italian pasta dishes have just enough sauce and cheese to lightly coat the pasta so that you can appreciate the quality and taste of the pasta . The sauce is not oversweetened for the American palate, the tomatoes (if it's a red sauce) is Roma variety and the pasta is cooked al dente.

                          81 Replies
                          1. re: SeoulQueen

                            seems like you, and many others, have only had bad versions of american-italian food.

                            1. re: thew

                              Yep. That's certainly not the Italo-Yank food I'm accustomed to in restaurants, nor the kind I prepare in my kitchen.

                              1. re: thew

                                That was my impression. Then again, I was lucky enough (at least in terms of Italian food) to grow up in RI, and have always lived on the East Coast, where there is no shortage of good Italian food. All this talk about "sweetness" sounds strange to me.

                                1. re: Bob W

                                  Sounds like a description of fast food Italian. Domino's maybe?

                                  1. re: coll

                                    Fazoli's? Never been there but heard terrible things about it.

                                2. re: thew

                                  Walk into any Olive Garden or Romano's or any of those national chain Italian restaurants and that's what you get. I'm taking the view that the OP wanted to know what the average American (not a CHer) considers "italian" food. Personally, I am very particular about Italian food, esp. after having traveled extensively through Italy and having my Italian friend's mother and grandmother cook for me. Now THAT was real Italian food.

                                  1. re: SeoulQueen

                                    There are literally thousands of trattorias and mom n' pop pizzerias in the US that are simultaneously vastly superior to Olive Garden and cater to regular food folks, not Chowhounds. The food served in these trattorias and pizzerias does not fit your depracatory description.

                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                      I have no more to support my opinion than you, but I'm betting there are also "thousands of trattorias and mom n' pop pizzerias in the US" that are INFERIO to Olive Garden. Non-chain/local doesn't mean that it's good.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        All you have to do is watch a few episodes of Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares- or any other restaurant makeover show- to see that. You're right on, Khan

                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                          Of coarse, Olive Garden and other big chains would NEVER let Gordon Ramsey in any of their kitchens so the point is moot. And you know, some of those chains have some really bad things going on.

                                          Google: Guy Takes Bath in Burger King Sink

                                3. re: SeoulQueen

                                  My father used to get up early on Sunday morning and start his "gravy" from canned Roma tomatoes that cooked all day. Using bottled or canned sauce in our house would be considered an outrage! Dad also made the meatballs himself, rolling and pan frying them before adding them to the gravy.

                                  We would often have hot and mild Italian sausage in the sauce and sometimes my mother would make stuffed squid, which was really special. She would clean the squid and stuff it with a seasoned breadcrumb mixture, pan fry it and then add it to the sauce. It would cook all day and the red sauce would permeate the squid and stuffing and would also add a sort of marine taste to the sauce. Divine! She would lightly flour and pan fry the squid legs and they were usually gone by dinner time.

                                  Wow, I need to re-create the squid recipe very soon...

                                  1. re: MysticYoYo

                                    Great memories! Thanks for sharing.

                                    1. re: MysticYoYo

                                      Sounds yummy and nice story. You must've had many wonderful dinners in your household.

                                      1. re: MysticYoYo

                                        That sounds SO good!! Now that is italian !! Good italian food is hard to come by in restaurants.

                                        1. re: flaglinda

                                          This sounds utterly lovely, and also bridges the gap between homeland Italian and "American Italian" foods (whether one means just US or anywhere from Canada to Argentina). I don't think all food by people of Italian descent elsewhere is necessarily debased or crap fastfood. It is of course influenced by the cooking of the country to which the migrants travelled.

                                          1. re: MysticYoYo

                                            so would my mother doing the same (only shes not italian)(nor is my family italian)
                                            that wouldnt be italian food?
                                            we didnt do the squid part...
                                            but i remember my mother making italian meatballs and making sauce(gravy) all day

                                            1. re: srsone

                                              I see someone else calls it "gravy." Our family always has, but we've gone round and round about whether it should be called sauce or gravy. When i make it, i definitely call it gravy. Google translation says gravy translates into "sugo" while sauce translates into "salsa." But when you ask for Italian to English, it says sugo translates into "sauce."

                                              My grandmother made the best gravy ever...here's a picture of her sitting on the Marina Green in SF around 1974. (most of her face got cut off during upload).

                                               
                                              1. re: dianelivia

                                                ive called it both...

                                                my sister married a part italian...his family called it that as well...iirc

                                                1. re: dianelivia

                                                  The thumbnail (small image) of the picture is cropped, but click on it and it enlarges to show the whole thing.

                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                    Thanks. It's one of the pictures i love of her. Now, this woman could cook. Lamb shanks, polenta w/gravy, anything she made tasted good. she was the daughter of immigrants, but learned to cook from her immigrant-sister-in-law. they were from a tiny town outside Lucca.

                                                    My other grandmother, daughter of immigrants, -- her people were from a part of Tuscany called Lunigiana. She was an even better cook -- her gravy, ravioli, etc. They all tended to cook anything with an italian flare. I long for those ravioli now.

                                              2. re: MysticYoYo

                                                that sounds fantastic.

                                                but the very fact that you call it "gravy" tells me that you're describing American Italian food, not Italian food. (I didn't replicate the OP's term "Real Italian Food" because that would imply that American Italian food is somehow fake.)

                                                1. re: calumin

                                                  This has been interesting. I don't think I could ever call an Italian (or Mexican, or Asian) sauce 'gravy'. It reeks of my beloved midwestern small-town aunt and uncle's friends. They were so small-minded and set in their ways about food, but they actually made us a whole lot of rockin' good food, aunt Gin was a really good cook and excellent baker- nothing unusual, however. But then the grocery stores there would never have made it in a big town, either. Uncle Walt once chewed an Italian-immigrant restaurant owner up one side and down the other because "you DON'T EVER put garlic on lamb chops!"

                                                2. re: MysticYoYo

                                                  For any interested readers the above perfectly describes American Italian food.
                                                  You will not find anyone on the peninsula making meatballs, or adding them to "gravy" to be served on pasta.

                                                  To say "now THAT'S real Ialuan food to this post is gut wrenching to an Italian national.

                                                  A real Italian wouldn't even feed a meal like that to pigs.

                                                  In fact, real Italians feed pigs chestnuts so that they can make cured ham with a nuanced and unique flavor.
                                                  This is known as Prosciutto di Parma.

                                                  Real Italian food does not involve cheese from a can sprinkled on top of pasta or in soup. It is "grana," and it is grated fresh for every meal.
                                                  The most famous grana is Parmiggiano-Reggiano. The cows who make the cheese are fed local alfalfa, which imbues the cheese with a nuanced and unique flavor. This cheese is aged for at least two years.

                                                  So real Italian food? Think Prosciutto di Parma. Think of Parmiggiano Reggiano. Think of painstaking efforts to find delicate perfectly balanced flavors. Think of trying so hard to cook well that you are even conscious of the food you are feeding your livestock and it's impact on the final product.

                                                  American Italian food? Think of Chef Boyardee, meatballs, and ham-fisted lazy attempts at making something and calling it something it is not.

                                                  The difference, is in the style, the effort, the integrity, the labor, the exacting detail, the perfection.

                                                  The difference is everything.

                                                  1. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                    Wow that's pretty harsh. I don't know anyone that uses cheese from a can, or Chef Boyardee. Where are you getting this information?

                                                    1. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                      hmm my Italian-American family uses Reggiano and eats prosciutto di parma

                                                      1. re: JTPhilly

                                                        Just ran into this thread, and it hit me passionately.

                                                        If you're an American who has spent time in Italy, you know there's no question that Italian-American cuisine has little to do with the ingredients, methods, and conventions of Italy. Both can be quite good, but there's no comparison between the two. They both rely on the quality of ingredients, and how they are prepared.

                                                        I'm stumped at why you all are throwing barbs about Chef Boyardee, Kraft cheese in a can and Olive Garden, none of which represent Italian food. Just because there's pasta and (pseudo) cheese in a dish doesn't make it Italian. But neither does it make it less tasty.

                                                        Not everyone is schooled in how to make simple Italian food. Not everyone can afford to buy good Parmigiano.

                                                        Mangia!

                                                        Lori

                                                      2. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                        Your remarks, re: "pigs" are totally offensive and typically chauvenistic.

                                                        1. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                          "The difference, is in the style, the effort, the integrity, the labor, the exacting detail, the perfection."

                                                          and this

                                                          Do you not think Italian Americans place incredible importance on the preparation of their food? My family table is exquisite & impeccably sourced. There is legacy of our Italian heritage, polpette & crepes from Abruzzo, Neapolitan ragu etc adapted to a new world of ingredients and influences. It is undeniably American and stil inherently connected to Italian heritage.

                                                          Tex-Mex is not Mexican food, its not better or worse, its something else - Brisket Enchiladas are a beautiful thing as is Italian American "Sunday Sauce' still both are distinctly and undeniably American.

                                                          1. re: JTPhilly

                                                            Please note that this is a first time poster so maybe we should cut him some slack :)

                                                          2. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                            "In fact, real Italians feed pigs chestnuts so that they can make cured ham with a nuanced and unique flavor.
                                                            This is known as Prosciutto di Parma."

                                                            In Parma, pigs are traditionally fed whey left from the making of parmigiano cheese. Pigs are often fed chestnuts in Spain and America to make cured meat.

                                                            "Real Italian food does not involve cheese from a can sprinkled on top of pasta or in soup. It is "grana,"

                                                            In Italy, the supermarket shelves are filled with pre-grated cheese in plastic bags. It is very popular.

                                                            "So real Italian food? Think Prosciutto di Parma. Think of Parmiggiano Reggiano."

                                                            While thinking of it, one might want to spell it as it is spelled in Italy. Also one might want to think of the proscuitto of San Daniele, or Oswaldo. These are just as "real Italian" as proscuitto from Parma.

                                                            Etc etc.....

                                                            1. re: barberinibee

                                                              Well said.

                                                              Eh, join CH just to lob bombs? Thanks for defusing!

                                                            2. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                              He has a good point, maybe a little too far, as no one I know has eaten Chef Boyardee since they were 5 years old. That stuff is like gross baby food.

                                                              But back to his point, while some of us, or many of us do take care to source good products for our recipes, its still no where close to what he describes.

                                                              Average Americans don't have farms anymore. Its all big business on huge industrial scale. Sure there are small specialty farms and most of us here probably search for those products but I would venture to say that the typical non - ChowHound American dose not try so hard. It''s whatever they can find at the local super market. And, that group of people generally look for the lowest price over highest quality.

                                                              Not trying to offend, as I know probably all of you reading this board go way beyound normal to create good food, but I dont think you could say that is typical for the average Joe making spaghetti and meatballs.

                                                              On the plus side, here in California I have notices a lot of new upscale restaurants only serving locally sourced food. They menu changes based on what they get that day and they tell you where everything is from. So I see that as a good thing.

                                                              1. re: kjonyou

                                                                Crap food exists in Europe just like it does in the US. The idea that traditional Italian food is "better" simply because it is from some boot shaped peninsula in the middle of a filthy body of water is absurd.

                                                                Traditional Italian and American Italian are two different cuisines. Both can be exceptional, both can be made very poorly.

                                                                1. re: jpc8015

                                                                  I get what you are saying but your logic is flawed and anomalies are absurd. "filty body of water" really? Have you forgotten the BP Oil spill in the Gulf? 20 million gallons of crude oil is equal to nothing on the planet.

                                                                  Is there crap food in Europe? Sure. But your argument is black and white. We are talking about general consensus here not all or nothing. It's like saying the film industry is Europe is just as good and bad as America. It's not. America dominates the film industry and thats just a fact. Do we put of crap movies? Sure but that dose not mean over all that the best entertainment comes form America just like Italians (in general) take their food more seriously then Americans.

                                                                  You want fact? Ok, there are about 5 fast food chains in Italy. If the people there wanted them, there would be a lot more, even China has a McDonald's. You know how many fast food chains exist in America? Over 800! And each chain may have thousands of restaurants. That says a lot about a society even if you adjust for the population differences.

                                                                  Dose it mean we all eat there? No, but in general, Americans eat more crap food then Italians.

                                                                  1. re: kjonyou

                                                                    There are those of us who do NOT consider 99% of Hollywood movies to have anything to do with quality cinema. Note that I did NOT say US films. Most Hollywood movies are the cinematic equivalent of fast food, or perhaps its upscale version.

                                                                    This is NOT anti-US culture. There are fine quality cultural products from the US.

                                                                    1. re: kjonyou

                                                                      You are completely missing my point and I will venture to guess that you are missing it by design because of your "everything that has ever come from America sucks" attitude.

                                                                      Remember that your precious Apennine Peninsula is not a German speaking region today. You're welcome.

                                                                    2. re: jpc8015

                                                                      But on average you will experience less crap food in Europe as there are less large food chains (not only fast food chains) involved. That doesn't mean there are no food/restaurant chains or that a mom''n'pop shop can't make crappy food but it is less like. In addition food is part of the education early on in many countries, including school lunches, and so people are in general more educated and more critical about the quality of food and restaurant can't get away as easy with crap food in Europe.

                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                        Ironic, tho, that out of necessity, Europe is where bottled water hails from, whereas the US has a superior drinking water infrastructure

                                                                        1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                          Not if you look at the history of where bottled water came from. It goes back hundreds of years because they did what we are doing to today by polluting their own water supply. Doctors found if you drank bottled water, you would get healthier, but really didnt know why.

                                                                          America has good water because the Native Americans didn't pollute their own land, which of course he had to wipe out to take over and start the trashing.

                                                                          And by the way, not so good any more with all the fracking for oil. I dont call being able to light your tap water on fire good water....regardless of the cause.

                                                                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LBjSX...

                                                                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7zsQa...

                                                                          1. re: kjonyou

                                                                            The Native Americans? So you're saying the Europeans have poor water because they "trashed" their land? (And deforested themselves ironically) I believe the US has better water because of ecology, education, water treatment plants, sewage treatment, and mandated requirements for private septic systems. Hydrofracking is a whole nuther issue, a political football like HFCS, and American-Italian food!

                                                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                              not sure how old you are, but clean bodies of fresh water in the us are a recent development. some of the great lakes were so polluted they would spontaneously combust and my local charles river, much like the thames in london, was a filthy pit.

                                                                              they were all industrial dumping grounds for centuries.

                                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                Define recent...I worked for a water utility for a few years...we have a rich history of forestry, clean water, stewardship of watersheds and wells that went back to the late 1800s. I may be wrong, but drinking water for Boston comes from aquifers north and west of the city, not the river

                                                                                  1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                    you are correct that our drinking water comes from the quabbin reservoir and not the charles. however that doesn't mean the latter wasn't filthy and taken as a cesspit for many decades.

                                                                                    lake erie and its previously flaming estuaries:

                                                                                    http://www.environmentalcouncil.org/p...

                                                                                    the river thames was biologically dead in the mid 20th-century:

                                                                                    http://www.lbhf.gov.uk/external/la21/...

                                                                                    " it gradually deteriorated again and by the 1950s, it was little more than an open sewer, containing no oxygen. The production of hydrogen sulphide gave off the smell of rotten eggs. The problem was further aggravated by fluctuating tides as it can take up to 80 days for water to be flushed out to the sea in periods of low rainfall. "

                                                                                    my beloved charles river:

                                                                                    http://www.crwa.org/charlesriver/history

                                                                                    "By the mid-1960's the river was in sorry shape after several years of lower-than-average rainfall. Raw sewage flowed from outmoded wastewater treatment plants. Toxic discharges from industrial facilities colored the river pink and orange. Fish kills, submerged cars and appliances, leaching riverbank landfills, and noxious odors were routine occurrences."

                                                                                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                  West Virginia comes to mind. Pretty recent, in a state that prides itself for having fewer regulations/less gubmint involvement. And that's "just* coal mining.

                                                                                    1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                      Pee is sterile and most certainly healthier than chemical run-off like MCHM or PPH.

                                                                                    2. re: linguafood

                                                                                      I didn't mention gubmint anything. If people, we the people, are stupid enough to taint their own water supply, so be it. There's lots of economic issues that come to mind with WVirginia (and Kentucky), like mountain top removal as well

                                                                              2. re: honkman

                                                                                I don't buy that there is less crap food in Europe. I've been to Holland and walked down the aisles of their grocery stores. They have the same type of low nutrition, high calorie crap sitting on the shelves that you will see in Detroit.

                                                                                Now what about all of the great Dutch cheeses and Belgian chocolates you ask? There are producers in America that are making them just as good. They may be a little different, but they are excellent products. And, if I insist on having the Dutch or Belgian versions, those are readily available in America as well.

                                                                                I know that the OP will argue that the cheeses and chocolates that I refer to are inferior based solely on the fact that they are produced in America. Some people just can't be helped.

                                                                                1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                  From my experiences in Europe, mainly France and Italy, I see less "crap" food there than in the US. Don't know about Holland. In France and Italy, the supermarkets dedicate more space to fruits and vegetables. The folks I know there (friends and family I have stayed with) buy fresh bread from the bakery, made without added sugar or preservatives. Few towns/small cities, at least the ones I've been to, have the American style fast food, or if they do, it's one or two. Restaurants I've wandered into for lunch were packed with workers, being served great plates of food for less than 10 euros (though the last time I was there was 2 years ago). School lunches bear zero resemblance to the frozen pizza/frozen chicken strips/frozen corn dogs that my daughter gets in her suburban school.

                                                                                  There's great food to be found in the US, including chocolates and cheeses, and breads and produce, etc. But on the whole, the average food quality, in my experience, is better in Europe than in the US. And for what it's worth, many indicators of health would support that.

                                                                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                    Okay, let me ask you this in relation to the original post...is the food of Italian immigrants to America automatically inferior to that of traditional Italian cooking as the OP suggests?

                                                                                    1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                      Tricky question. I don't think it's inferior, it's just different.

                                                                                      First, here's some personal experiences from my family in the French Haute Savoie that I visit every year to two. The bread all comes from their local boulangerie, a mile away. The cheese they buy is all produced within 50 miles. The vegetables almost always come from either their garden, or from markets that sell locally produced. The butter is locally produced and small batched, so much so that you can taste differences from one month to the other based on what the cows were eating. "Salami" isn't a generic cured sausage - there are dozens of varieties available in all of their markets. And they eat according to what is seasonally available - more potatoes, squashes and home canned goods in winter, fresh greens in spring and summer. In short, there's a lot of variety in what they eat, and it tends to be locally produced goods. While city-folk can't get all of the same access, in Paris, Annecy, Grenoble, and Lyon (the cities I'm familiar with and with people I know that live there) people tend eat local bread, eat local cheeses, and shop local markets.

                                                                                      My more limited Italian experience is similar, but again, more limited.

                                                                                      American Italian - the main difference here is that the same local ingredients, and the general ethos of eating seasonally and eating local, isn't as engrained as it is in Italy and France. Lots of people have talked about meatballs and sauce made with loving care. I'm sure it is, but it's usually made with canned tomatoes and beef that may come from anywhere in the US. There's a few examples of Italian American cooking using fresh, local, and seasonal, but Italian-American is a generic term, and in my experience with I-A cooking, it looks similar whether in NYC, Boston, or St. Paul MN. Italian cooking in Bergamo is different than it is in Venice, and very different than it is in Rome or Sicily.

                                                                                      A very long-winded way of saying that if using fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients matter, then IMO Italian-American cooking is inferior, only because of those issues. For those for who fresh, local and seasonal does not impact the final dish, then there's probably no difference.

                                                                                      1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                        Interesting.

                                                                                        Here in little Silverton, Oregon my wife makes the bread, the butter and cheese comes from two different creameries within a couple hours drive, the beef comes from a ranch just over the mountains near Bend, the tomatoes, peppers, and basil all are grown in my back yard, and the wine could come from any number of wineries within a twenty-five mile radius of my house.

                                                                                        I'll admit, the dried spaghetti we use comes from a blue box in the store...oh the horror.

                                                                                        1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                          There are certainly areas in the US that fresh and local ingredients are available, and that you have a garden. The emphasis on fresh and local, in the US, is somewhat recent - small breweries, cheese produces, artisan meats, etc. are a relatively new phenomena (with a very few exceptions) here in Minnesota. I've heard that Oregon has a strong tradition of fresh, local, and seasonal foods and cooking. But that's the exception in the US, not the rule. I don't think your experience is typical of that in most other place in the US, and that certainly wasn't the case in the vast majority of the US in the 70, 80's, and 90's.

                                                                                          1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                            Thanks for reminding about the local beer.

                                                                                            1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                              We are so lucky here on Long Island, lots of local breweries popping up and now hops is turning into a big local crop. I'm sure we're not the only ones!

                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                Here in the Willamette Valley you literally can not drive in any one direction for more than 10 minutes or so without happening upon a field of hops.

                                                                                                1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                                  We're getting there ourselves, finally something to look at besides vineyards!

                                                                                        2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                          I wouldn't necessarily disagree with much of what you said, but with respect to the source of tomatoes used for making sauces by cooks in Italy, I think they use canned as much as we do. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

                                                                                          1. re: johnb

                                                                                            There is nothing wrong with canned tomatoes. There are some great tomatoes available in cans. Especially the ones that my wife cans herself from the tomatoes in our backyard.

                                                                                            1. re: johnb

                                                                                              johnb and jpc8015 - Agreed, there's nothing wrong with canned tomatoes, and I wouldn't doubt they are often used in Italy. Just like there's nothing wrong with boxed pasta, bottled water, tinned anchovies, etc. But that's not really the point.

                                                                                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                " Lots of people have talked about meatballs and sauce made with loving care. I'm sure it is, but it's usually made with canned tomatoes...."

                                                                                                Your words. Not mine.

                                                                                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                  As you say, not the point. Of course canned tomatoes are used in Italy, home-canned and otherwise, and plenty. Commercial products brag on the labels that they are grown and produced in Italy, and many people care what part of Italy the tomatoes are from. Anchovies have to be salt-cured, and how many people are going to do that at home, so of course they are store bought ("white" anchovies are marinated fresh fish and are not interchangeable with the widely used salt- or oil-packed). Of course people buy spaghetti.

                                                                                                  And of course there are people in the US who care about the quality of their ingredients, etc. But in my experience, which is considerable, I don't mind saying, it is a LOT easier to find the better-quality stuff in Italy. Foods that I can buy in the supermarket in Rome are sold in gourmet shops in New York, but I have no doubt that much of the good food I see at shops like Todaro in New York are used in Italian-American kitchens. And I'm sure restaurants like Carbone, which unabashedly serves very retro Italian-American dishes, seek out good raw materials. In other words, today in the 21st century, everybody is more conscious of ingredients, and that is probably not the issue, assuming we are comparing good Italian-American with good southern Italian, and not bad Italian-American with good Italian.

                                                                                                  I think it could be instructive to look at good examples of both styles to get at the difference in style. For one thing, I-A uses way more ingredients and seasonings than Italian. It is heavier, with more meats and cheeses, often together (not that these aren't used in the old country, but more for special occasions). A historical explanations for this is given in a very good book called "Delizie" by John Dickey (I believe), but probably elsewhere too.

                                                                                        3. re: jpc8015

                                                                                          Try finding Dutched Cocoa powder in a typical super market in the US, nearly imposable unless you order on line or go to a specialty or gourmet retail store.

                                                                                          Your argument is way too simplistic. Just because two countries have the same product, dose not equate to the same amount of consumption. I can find pigs feet in the use and in Mexico but that dose not mean we both eat them in the same quantity.

                                                                                  2. re: BuonarrotiBocaccio

                                                                                    Polpette definitely exist in Italy; they aren't served atop pasta. There are even vegetarian polpette di spinaci.
                                                                                    http://allrecipes.it/ricette/tag-992/...

                                                                                    It is true that Italians still don't rely on ready meals to the extent that is common in France, but not everyone in Italy takes such care with cooking. I've encountered bad and indifferent cooks there too.

                                                                                    Italian food evolved when Italians moved to North and South America (above all to the US and Argentina). Many traditional ingredients were unavailable; however meat was far more accessible even for poor workers. Not the best cuts though, hence meatballs.

                                                                                  1. re: SeoulQueen

                                                                                    That is simply a generalization and untrue in many, many cases.

                                                                                    You are describing MUCH of CHAIN ITALIAN AMERICAN FOOD.

                                                                                    There are THOUSANDS of excellent family owned italian american restaurants in this country.
                                                                                    Italian American cuisine is simply ITALIAN CUISINE ADAPTED TO AMERICAN INGREDIANTS.

                                                                                    Italian American cuisine is also usually SOUTHERN PEASANT COOKING.

                                                                                    Whatever dishes were brought over to this country by poor southern italians formed the foundation of italian american cooking.

                                                                                    As long as the restaurant is run by ITALIAN or italian americans, the chances are it will be good.

                                                                                    1. re: gabagool

                                                                                      I think if you're lucky enough to live somewhere that there are many Mom and Pop Italian places, you might not realize that a lot of this country only has chain food Italian. I remember going to California in the 70s and craving something parmigiana, or pizza, but it just didn't exist back then. Things have changed, but I can understand: stranger in a strange land.

                                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                                        What about North Beach in San Francisco or Little Italy in San Diego? In Los Angeles the Italian population disbursed during World War II out of fear of persecution and possible internment.

                                                                                        1. re: artgalgenius

                                                                                          Yes, this was when I visited Los Angeles and San Fran for a week or so back in the 70s, as I said, and it was shocking to me at the time. I had some really good pizza at a bar in Wyoming though. I was also in the mood for anything veal but no dice. Now when I'm visiting family in San Diego, it's Mexican all the way, sis who lives there tells me don't even think about the pizza so I can't say personally. But they eat out almost every meal, so I take her word for it. I'll ask her about "Little Italy".

                                                                                          1. re: artgalgenius

                                                                                            North Beach in SF is almost the worst place here to go for actual Italian food. With very few exceptions, it's bad Italian American food geared to tourists thinking they're getting the real thing.

                                                                                            1. re: EatingSF

                                                                                              In fact, Alioto's is very good, if a bit over-priced.

                                                                                          2. re: coll

                                                                                            If you want fresh pasta, thin crust pizza, homemade gnocchi and live in So Cal, try Eatalian. I just had a Margherita for lunch and it was fantastic. I'm even reluctant to post this cause the place is already crowded as it is. I also had their fresh tagliatelle al ragu - heaven. If you wanna talk good Italian food - whether its American Italian or Italian Italian - try this place. (No - I don't own the place. A guy with a thick Italian accent owns it.)

                                                                                          3. re: gabagool

                                                                                            "As long as the restaurant is run by ITALIAN or italian americans, the chances are it will be good."

                                                                                            I'm an Italophile myself, but I wouldn't say that statement is true at all. Plenty of cheap, crappy red sauce made by Italian-Americans in the US, just like there's plenty of cheap, crappy Chinese-American food made by people with Chinese heritage.

                                                                                            1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                              do all americans cook american food well? of course not.so why should all italians do italian food well?

                                                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                                                Right. That's what I was saying.

                                                                                                1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                                                  threads are tricky - i wasnt implying you said the other, i was agreeing and expanding on your post

                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                    Ha, yes they are. Not least since I was responding to something written 5 months ago anyway. Ah well.

                                                                                            2. re: gabagool

                                                                                              In the Bay Area, especially So. City, most of the old Italians were from the North...specifically Tuscany. The fishermen in SF were from Sicily.

                                                                                          4. It's complicated....a fairly high level of sweetness is a characteristic of many real Shanghainese dishes, and an integral part of the cuisine, so sweetness is not a factor that rules out real Chinese food (for example). The differences aren't going to be clear cut, but a combination, especially when Chinese or Italian actually refers to many diverse cuisines, rather than a monolithic style.

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Maximilien

                                                                                                Shouldn't that be "It'sa compluhcated"

                                                                                              2. re: limster

                                                                                                Agree. Sometime, it is not very clear cut. There are definitely sweet Chinese dishes.

                                                                                              3. Me think the early immigrants did not have direct (easy, immediate) access to the products they used to have locally before coming to America, so they tried to substitute with local produces that did not really replicate the original flavours.

                                                                                                but it does not matter to the clients because it was done by italian, so it must be as authentic as possible because they did not know better, for most, they do not have a "real" point of reference to which to compare what they are eating; for example, I've never eaten "real" China chinese food, so what I eat is as authentic to what real chinese food is until I go to China and eat there.

                                                                                                M.

                                                                                                1. Spaghetti with red sauce and meatballs as dinner by itself (or with a salad and garlic bread) is American Italian.

                                                                                                  Penne with bolognese as a small portion amongst multiple courses is Italian.

                                                                                                  ;)

                                                                                                  Both are excellent, and really, I think the main differences are portion size and number of courses.

                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: tzurriz

                                                                                                    Do, or rather did, all Italians eat multiple courses, especially at home?

                                                                                                    Did the street ladies take the time to serve antipasta, pasta with their namesake sauce, fish, meat, cheese, etc? How about the charcoal makers and their 'eggs and bacon on pasta'? Or poor who suffered from a niacin deficiency due to a diet of corn meal mush?

                                                                                                    The abundance of meat in American Italian probably is an adaptation to available ingredients (and job opportunities). But I wonder whether those immigrants ever ate the 'real Italian' that we read about.

                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                      are you comparing modern American Italian with the food the Italian immigrants ate when they were fleeing starvation? That's not a fair comparison.

                                                                                                      I'm talking about modern American Italian and modern Italian. Big difference. Let's compare apples and apples please.

                                                                                                      1. re: tzurriz

                                                                                                        i think he is comparing what the average or even poor italian eats compared with the idealized italian meal.

                                                                                                        just as the "typical" american family dinner might have a soup and main meat and 2 sides and dessert, but that does not mean every family eats like that often, or even ever.

                                                                                                      2. re: paulj

                                                                                                        My cousin married a guy from Naples and the family ate very traditional Italian suppers--salad or antipasto, a pasta dish, a meat main course sided with vegetables, then dessert or fruit and cheese and coffee (the older kids got served coffee, the younger ones hot milk with a little coffee). No huge portions or second helpings. Also no English spoken at the table. When I was a kid I thought it was cool to say "Grazie" and "Scusarsi" and "Delizioso!" Alberto was positively horrified at what he described as "the troughs of pasta" served in Italian-American restaurants and he could go positively apopletic about pizza. If they ate out, it was any cuisine other than Italian. He only trusted Italian meals made by his mother, who came to New Jersey once a year, my cousin and later on his daughters.

                                                                                                        Offhand story--my husband and I ate at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco a few years ago. After a great meal the waiter came up and asked how everything was. I said "Delizioso, grazie." The waiter's eyes widened and he happily said "Napoli!" Apparently after thirty-some-odd years--and sadly twenty-some-odd years after Alberto died--I still speak my extremely limited Italian with a Naples accent thanks to Alberto patiently correcting my accent at those long-ago dinners ...

                                                                                                    2. I would consider Olive Garden to be American Italian, though that certainly isn't inclusive of all American-Italian cuisine.

                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                        it is, but that would be like using mcdonalds as a typical steakhouse

                                                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                                                          Please don't make fun of my favorest steak house please.

                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                            it's not. It's a gourmet fish restaurant.

                                                                                                            1. re: Kalivs

                                                                                                              :D Consider that Filet-O-Fish is one of its most popular items (among Chowhound), maybe it is a fish restaurant afterall.

                                                                                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                          I would consider Olive Garden to be closer to garbage than American Italian. You can get decent American Italian in most mom and pop pizza joints.

                                                                                                          1. re: Alfred G

                                                                                                            Spot on, Alfred G. Yes you can, especially in Westchester. One need never set foot in a chain, and with a very few exceptions, not of my own choosing, I never have...........and never will.

                                                                                                        3. I would say that the supreme exemplar of Italian American cuisine was the defunct Mama Leone's in New York City. I remember going there often when I was young, thinking it was the height of sophistication. It was wildly popular.

                                                                                                          136 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                            Oh my goodness no! I consider the local red sauce/gravy joints in Westchester to be Italian American. Olive Garden and Mama Leone's are/were deplorable, they cater to the un-Italian and the tourists.

                                                                                                            Italian Italian can be had in Westchester, but it is pricey and special and the restaurants are not suited for a go-to weekly place. Please don't think Italian-Americans don't know and can't cook good Italian if they want to, as I do, but can't always afford what those in Italy get on a regular basis for a lot less lira.

                                                                                                            1. re: anonymouse1935

                                                                                                              Everything was cooked from scratch at ML's; I don't believe anything is at OG.

                                                                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                Which is why the Olive Garden Institute in Tuscany is so ironic. You couldn't pay the locals in Italy to eat at OG-I think they would be offended by the dishes, like their lunch portion of Manicotti Formagio which packs 33 grams of fat, and a whopping 2100mg of sodium!
                                                                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/524169
                                                                                                                I think of Italian, real Italian food, to be fresh, simple, uncomplicated, and not sauced and salted to death.

                                                                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Olive Garden--or places like it--do quite well in Italy. Contrary to the opinion of many Americans, Western Europeans are not God-like beings from another planet. And when it comes to food and drink, most of them have rather pedestrian tastes just like most Yanks.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                    That's surprising! It just seems to me that we Americans get chastised at every turn for bastardizing food from other countries. For instance, the term Italian American food is rather pejorative among foodies.

                                                                                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                      there is a great deal of reverse snobbery amongst americans who think it elevates their sophistication to pooh pooh american tastes while lauding european tastes. it is of course utter shite

                                                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                                                        You know who really irritates me with this attitude? Tony Bourdain. He speaks about Americans as if he's embarrased to be one; as if we are all bourgeois, provincial and pedestrian. Xenophobes, really.
                                                                                                                        Contrast Bourdain with Andrew Zimmern, who explains, many times, to people from other cultures that Americans would not like such and such food, due to smell, or texture, or provenance. To me, it never comes across as American self-loathing, rather, as a way to explain the differences in how we may view food.

                                                                                                                        1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                          American tastes? It's just as diverse, and so is the cuisine.

                                                                                                                          1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                            It is not self-loathing when speaking as an outsider.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                I really don't think we need Anthony Bourdain (or anyone else) making excuses for what he perceives to be deficiencies in American's tastes in food. What about the almost total aversion that most Asians have towards cheese of every kind? Is this a cultural deficiency? I think not, simply a different food tradition. I'd love to see Bourdain try to get one of his Asian foodie friends to eat a ripe old goat's cheese. It's not going to happen.

                                                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                  You need to narrow down the Asian list, because your buddy Anthony Bourdain will win your bet if he grab a Mongolian:

                                                                                                                                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/philpogg...

                                                                                                                                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/86803714...

                                                                                                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                    I don't know about other Asians, but they love cheese in Japan. Including all kinds of chevre.

                                                                                                                                    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bi...

                                                                                                                                    1. re: E Eto

                                                                                                                                      Well I can speak for Hong Kongers....most folks in the 80s have been exposed to cheese one way or another growing up (as well as western food, thanks to British Colonial rule and the proliferation of HK style western and also numerous western restaurants). And yes they love cheese in Hong Kong too.

                                                                                                                                      Examples:

                                                                                                                                      - Kraft single slice cheddar cheese for cheese toast
                                                                                                                                      - HK style spaghetti bolognese has melted cheese on top, cheese fans sprinkle a ton of Kraft Parmesian on top.
                                                                                                                                      - there's a market for high end Euro style cheese in HK, definitely at the fancy restaurants and the like. Can't have fine wine w/o cheese, or the dessert cheese platter. Ditto for fondue which I'm sure exists in HK
                                                                                                                                      - cheese baked lobster, a well known Cantonese seafood restaurant prep
                                                                                                                                      - Pizza Hut (and numerous other pizza joints) have been around for aeons.
                                                                                                                                      -cheesecake is easily found with a ton of variations

                                                                                                                                      to name a few.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                      israelis, arabs, afghanis, pakistanis, indians, mongolians, etcetcetc are all cheese eating asians

                                                                                                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                        My father was born and raised in Vietnam and he really enjoyed ripe cheeses. You're just wrong about this.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                          Quite a few fellow grad students in my program are East Asian and virtually none of them will go anywhere near cheese. Bread yes, cheese no. In fact, the only commodity they consume at our weekly wine-and-cheese parties is sliced baguette in huge fistfuls. I'm guessing this is due to the fact that nothing else on offer is of interest, which I find delightful because it means that I and others can take leftovers home. Grafton bandaged cheddar, anyone? :)

                                                                                                                                      2. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                        How can anyone say amercians wouldn't eat this? Tastes are very diverse. I, for one, am an adventurous eater! I'll try anything once! How can you say you don't like something if you haven't tried it ?

                                                                                                                                        1. re: flaglinda

                                                                                                                                          I really, really agree with you. I'm kinda skeptical of one's Chow-worthiness if they won't even TRY something.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: flaglinda

                                                                                                                                            I have no clue what you're referring to. Hints?

                                                                                                                                        2. re: thew

                                                                                                                                          There are also a lot of foodies who forget that American dishes and dishes from other foreign countries get bastardized in Europe. EVERYONE adapts food to their own tastes and ingredients whether in France, Italy, England, or the U.S. The snobbery for snobbery sake is asinine. When I see the oneupsmanism among people who fancy themselves to be foodies, I can't stop cracking up inside. I just want to say, "Stop trying so hard."

                                                                                                                                        3. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                          I agree completely. If it's hyphenated-American the "sophisticates" consider it inferior. Screw 'em.

                                                                                                                                        4. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                          Comforting, in a -fox-and-the-grapes kind of way, but largely untrue. Europeans/Italians are in no way godlike, but at all levels of society they cultivate refined tastes in food that are largely missing in America. Ordinary conversation regularly, constantly comes around to food, its quality, the lst meal eaten and the meal to come. The highest accolade is "fresh," expressed with the regularity of a teenager on American Bandstand (sorry yung'uns) saying "I really liked the beat." In the USA, San Francisco comes to mind as a place where food similarly takes on a great importance for all socio-economic levels. Like anything else, what those around you find of importance will likely affect what you find to be important. In Italy, it's the quality of the food. In America, it's more generally about convenience, quantity and, frankly, cruder criteria—subtlety is not our strong suite.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                            I note that the much reviled McDonald's (among other fast food places) does a smashing business throughout the culinary Holy Land of Western Europe. Sure, the French and Italians are generally more serious about food than Americans, but the difference is not as great as is usually supposed because at root their societies are far more similar to America's than different.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                              Even worse: I have been told that the McDonald's at Piazza di Spagna in Roma is or was once the highest grossing unit per square meter in the world. The Slow Food movement was founded explicitly in reaction to this exact restaurant. Among other explanations for the success of McDonald's (as well as Chinese restaurants) in Italy has been that Italian teens can find few better ways to signal rebellion than to reject mom's home cooking.
                                                                                                                                              Be that as it may, I think you vastly underestimate the root differences between Italian and American society. To my mind, the differences at the level of taste (in all senses) are enormous. This is not to say that Italy is, in your sarcastic phrase, a Holy Land. But it is a place where good food is taken seriously at all levels of society. If you are so situated, try talking to Italian tourists in the U.S. and ask them for their opinion of the food they have found on their trip. I have done this many times—it is not an occasion for American self-satisfaction. I think you already know what the American tourists will say about the food they find in Italy.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                The culinary options in your typical large, Ameican metropolitan area are well nigh endless. And if you don't know what you're doing, you can burn your fingers on some mediocre-to-lousy stuff. On the other hand, if you do some good research and talk to locals in the know, there is every reason one can eat every bit is well in America as in Italy.

                                                                                                                                                Curing my time in Italy, I dined exceptionally well, and hope to do so again some day. That said, I also had a couple of poor meals that wouldn't have been up to par in my hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

                                                                                                                                                Bottom line, if you're a tourist who really cares about food, you will do well both in American and in Italy.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                  At one time I reviewed restaurants in Italy for a living, trying out some 750 or so over most of a decade. I have lived in several major metropolitan areas (now in NYC). My seat-of-the-pants estimate is that chances of getting a mediocre (not even lousy) meal in Italy are maybe 1 in 10. In the USA, in NYC, I'd put that up to 6 in 10. The Italians have a big advantage—there is virtually no corner of Italy where it is much of a stretch to come, easily, by fresh, mostly local produce, meats, wines, fish, cheeses, etc. Of late, things are much easier here in NYC, but it's a real challenge in, say, Albany, or Hammond, IN, or Scranton. Again, even the most anonymous industrial town in Italy will likely have a more-than-worthy restaurant, a great bakery, and an annual town festival devoted to whatever is their most characteristic dish. There is really just no comparison.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                    "chances of getting a mediocre (not even lousy) meal in Italy are maybe 1 in 10... in NYC, I'd put that up to 6 in 10."

                                                                                                                                                    That is a huge difference. Never thought of the difference being so dramatic. Essentially, you were saying that 9/10 restaurants in Italy are good, while most US restaurants suck.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                      "Essentially, you were saying that 9/10 restaurants in Italy are good, while most US restaurants suck."

                                                                                                                                                      That's been my experience. Remember also that part of what makes the odds so bad are the all-pervasive chains. 700+ Olive Gardens and 700+ Red Lobsters, 1000+ Denny's and roughly a like number of TFI Friday's. 200+ Romano's Macaroni Grills, 680 Ruby Tuesdays in 44 states. And so on. This, apparently, is what America wants to eat.

                                                                                                                                                      Isn't that part of why we're here on Chowhound, hoping to narrow the odds?

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                          Again, I imagine there are chains aplenty in Western Europe. Not perhaps where the tourists dwell, but probably everywhere else. Chains are not just an American thing.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                            There are definitely a lot more of them in the US than in France or Italy, or even Britain, where i live.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: greedygirl

                                                                                                                                                              And part of the reason for that is that the US is a much more spread out nation where people drive much farther and need convenient places on the highway at which to eat. It's not always easy to navigate a strange city in search of the mom n' pops.

                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                              "Again, I imagine there are chains aplenty in Western Europe" - I don't know in which countries you traveled so far in Europe but none of them has even a comparable level of chain restaurants as the US

                                                                                                                                                            3. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                              You might want to do a per-capita on your numbers if you're going to claim that chains are the root of all evil here and why italy is god's gift to cuisine. It's not like I never saw a chain when I was in Italy.

                                                                                                                                                              Hell, as far as their love of wonderful food goes, that explains why I saw such concoctions as sliced hot dog + french fry pizza slices when wandering the streets of Naples. Granted they were tasty, but hardly haute cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                Italtrav, Excellent point! We used Chowhound as our resource for a trip to Italy and experienced amazing food. I can say with great clariety the meal we had at Bucca De San Antonio in Lucca, Italy was the best meal I've EVER had. As a Chowhound, I never dine at chains and have found some excellent local Italian restaurants that could hold their own in the old country.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                  I was put off by that figure until you figured in the chains. I can see that being the case. Heck, I could see it being 8/10 restaurants being bad. Those special places are a rarity.

                                                                                                                                                              2. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                You've obviously got a lot of meaningful experience under your belt (or over it ;)); I respect your opinion.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                  to italtrav: i would respectfully submit that nyc has a great deal of awesome food & restaurants, but if your main criterion for meal quality is "fresh"-- well, uless you are quite wealthy and eating a fine dining meal nightly, there are better regions, cities and towns elsewhere in america for fresh and local food.

                                                                                                                                                                  recently went to a local "nyc style deli" where at the end of the meal dh commented that it was indeed just like a very mediocre nyc deli-- and the last time he'd tasted parmesan cheese sauce from a can (like that which arrived on his plate), was in nyc. ;)

                                                                                                                                                                  to the phenomenon of the popularity of american fast food restaurants (particularly mcdonald's) in europe: i liked the pov presented by m. steinberger in this book:

                                                                                                                                                                  http://www.amazon.com/Au-Revoir-All-T...

                                                                                                                                                                  in short, "it's the taxes, stupid."

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                    Italy, too, has lost something of its luster—that's part of what Slow Food has been about there, publicizing threatened parts of its culinary heritage. Each year they put on a huge exhibition, the Salone del Gusto, so that producers and public can encounter each other. But neither Italy nor France is immune to the modern tradeoff between time and taste. It's just that we in the US have already gone so far down the road that taste has nearly been lost to sight.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                      "It's just that we in the US have already gone so far down the road that taste has nearly been lost to sight."

                                                                                                                                                                      I consider this a gross exaggeration.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                        Have you wandered through an ordinary suburban supermarket anytime recently? I have the impression at times that the fresh produce is there as a kind of window dressing, a loss leader whose job is really to sell canned soup and microwavable meals.

                                                                                                                                                                        Where my mother-in-law now lives, in a reasonably prosperous suburb south of Chicago, it's largely a food wasteland. If she drives 5 miles (during about 6months of the year) she can find a farmstand. Go 15 miles or so on the expressway and there's a Whole Foods. Other than that, your choice is Jewel, Aldi, Food4Less, all filled with shiny, bland apples trucked in from WA, farmed fish that was taken out of water several days previously, bread "baked fresh on premises" (from commercial dough made elsewhere and full of "conditioners"), meats all packaged in plastic, cut from "boxed" beef (i.e., butchered somewhere central and delivered a couple of times each week—but they can order you a frozen rabbit). But there are hundreds of linear feet of cookies, sugared cereals, soft drinks, frozen pizzas, Prego/Ragù/Chef Boyardee (Now that's Italian!) tomato sauces and tubs of ready-made Jell-O for those who are too lazy to add their own boiling water to artificially flavored gelatin powders.

                                                                                                                                                                        This, I submit, is run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-road, normal and representative America. If I had to live where my mother-in-law does, I'd probably shoot myself.
                                                                                                                                                                        She survives, in large measure, because she puts about a third of an acre under cultivation each year and puts up a great many jars of tomato pulp and sauce, freezes broad beans and sage leaves and, until she was widowed, raised rabbits in the back yard. Her husband used to hunt, sometimes deer, but mostly game birds.

                                                                                                                                                                        So yeah, I think the U.S. palate has been largely destroyed already. You and I are at this point largely irrelevant rear-guard reactionaries—and I'm clearly a hell of a lot more cranky and depressed about it than you are.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                          there's clearly a corporate dumbing down. but it isn't just you, and the people of italy, who appreciate food.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                            That's why Chowhound exists, to help each other search out good food, no matter how difficult that may be.

                                                                                                                                                                            I know my neighbors are mystified that i go to the ethnic grocery stores in town, and to different farmstands for different items that each one specializes in. Anywhere I have to drive somewhere for work issues it always involves a stop or two at specialty mom and pops. Hopefully when their kids grow up, they'll have more time to shop and enjoy too, and they know they can ask me where to go. Because I know my older neighbors are very absorbed with good food and wine, it's their reward for getting through the tough years. It does take a little effort, but I can't imagine being satisfied just going to the closest supermarket and that's it. Have to say, more and more, plenty of people I know aren't either.

                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                            First rule of grocery store shopping- Stick to the perimeter!!
                                                                                                                                                                            Recently watching Jamie Oliver in WVA, he visited a mom (obese) who had a freezer FULL of frozen pizzas. Nothing but brown food in her kitchen, not one bright phytonutrient-rich food to be found.
                                                                                                                                                                            Why? Those pizzas were 50 cents each.
                                                                                                                                                                            So, so sad.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                              When were those halcyon days when everything was fresh, locally grown and downright delicious? Moreover, when was grocery store food not only fresh, locally grown and delicious, but also variegated beyond belief as it is now?

                                                                                                                                                                              I submit that those days never existed. Moreover, I would argue that the putative decline in the quality of food available in grocery stores is exaggerated, and is more than made up for by the variety of products available.

                                                                                                                                                                              The store in which I shop sells probably 200 products (including produce, meat and fish) that were nowhere to be seen in this part of the world 20 years ago. Factor in a significant growth in ethnic markets (Latin-American, Indian, East Asian, Mediterranean), and I can now cook dishes that would have frankly been quite impossible 20 years ago. Add products from the Internet (almost all produced in the US), and there simply is no comparison.

                                                                                                                                                                              But if we are seeking some culinary Utopia we are bound to be disappointed. I see no way for a nation to produce abundance, variety, inexpensiveness, and quality all in equal proportion.

                                                                                                                                                                              Italy has one approach, which has its advantages. The US has a different approach, which also has its advantages. Personally, I'm thrilled with the culinary scene in the US and would not trade it for what's going on in Italy or anywhere else. I eat very well, both at home and in restaurants, and am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                I agree completely. Take something as simple as flat-leaf parsley: My mother had to grow her own; today you can find it in any supermarket. When we lived on the east coast, the only way to get artichokes was to have relative in CA ship us some. Now they're everywhere, too. The invention of overnight shipping has dramatically increased the variety and quality of fish that I can enjoy here in the Midwest.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                  When a kid in PA in the 50s-60s, avocado was a special treat to ceremoniously shared around the table. Funny to go in the service, get stationed at San Diego, and find heaps of avocados in the mess hall, 3 meals a day. "Here, man, take one with you." And then to come back to PA a few years later to find that everybody's making guacamole.
                                                                                                                                                                                  i'm kind of a locavore, but I dig that you can get fresh lemon grass at Lucky supermarket.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                  Right on. I often say that the kids these days seem so much more sophisticated by the time they're adults because of the plethora of options available now that weren't readily available back then. Different cuisines in terms of restaurants, different ingredients more readily available in grocery stores, and the like. You mention the internet - simply having that information available in the form of recipes and such has been a big boon.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                    That variety is deceptive, you know -- it's all based on various concoctions of corn and soy. It's the subsidies for corn and soy that make meat so cheap and produce so expensive -- which, I would hazard, is a major contributor to our obesity epidemic.

                                                                                                                                                                                    While the industrial system most certainly has its advances--the variety of produce that one would not otherwise have access to--I still think that eating according to traditional principles is not only more delicious, but also more healthy. Italians by and large eat much better than Americans, and by and large they are much less obese and sick. One can take advantage of the avocado, and skip over the premade avocado dip.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I also think that some of it is lingering puritanism: the whole "eat to live, not live to eat" phenomena. There's this idea that being too concerned with food is somewhat unseemly, that there are better things to think about. But food is a major contributor to quality of life.

                                                                                                                                                                                    And yes, I did spend two years in Italy while in the military, so I have some basis of comparison. Much, much easier to find good food in Italy than in the United States. While an appreciation of good food preceded my time in Italy, Italy definitely contributed. I'm in Omaha, and I've had to made significant effort to find local farms selling good food. I do co-ops and try to avoid the farmer's markets, because I know that everyone there hikes up the price to not compete with the other farmers who really do need to sell at that steep price to financially survive. At least, that's what I've been told by someone who sells kale there (he felt bad for charging so much, and I knew him in another context). I need to financially survive too! Deals are to be found, but it's not easy.

                                                                                                                                                                                    My first post here, btw!

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: lapelosa

                                                                                                                                                                                        I have found that the more I live to eat--the more I think about food--the healthier I am becoming. I could eat a crappy frozen diet meal to "live" or I can take the time to prepare a 100% from scratch healthy meal that gives me fantastic leftovers for the next day. I get an enjoyable experience in the kitchen and a really good, healthy, meal made from scratch. We recently discovered making homemade yogurt and homemade jam from in season fruits to flavor it with. I never really liked yogurt until this. We discovered homemade yogurt b/c I live to eat. I am always reading websites, message boards, etc... As a result of living to eat, we have both lost weight and feel great. Living to eat is the way to go as long as you are eating really good, high quality food.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                        I can't tolerate the produce at ANY of my local markets. It has gotten so bad that I only go to a specialty market and the local produce shed at the farmer's market.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                          I am so thankful to live in a city where we have a small chain which more fresh food than canned and super processed. A lot of the produce is local or organic, and they have at least 12 kinds of apples, more during apple season. I had 15 different choices in tomatoes today. They butcher all of their meat too. I can't imagine having to live without that.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                this site is mostly americans. americans, from every level of society, who take food seriously.

                                                                                                                                                                                If italian tourists took the time to eat in good american restaurants they would have nothing but good things to say about the food. If americans only ate in the tourist traps along vio venetto or wherever they are, they might not find the great italian food either.

                                                                                                                                                                                there is crap italian food. there are bad italian cooks. there are italians who wouldn't know a good bolognese from a bad one.

                                                                                                                                                                                get over it already

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                  Not a matter of getting over anything. Clearly, you bridle at the mere thought that the general level of gastronomy in Italy is markedly superior to the U.S. and want to just split the difference. There is, of course, bad italian food. But, based on long and extensive experience of both countries, I'm sticking by my assessment that there is a great deal more bad food here in the U.S. of A., for the reasons I listed earlier. And if you gave me the choice between an tourist trap on Via Veneto vs. one in or around Times Square, I'd choose the Italian one based on the odds. I'm not happy about that, but it's the plain truth.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Let's leave aside the tiny fraction of America that is here on Chowhound. Of course there are people in America who care and who can tell the difference. But part of the reason we have such a comparative dearth of good restaurants is because the American public largely could care less and would be hard-pressed to discern the difference between good and bad food. Why should they—their tastes have been formed by the debased foodstuffs that make up the greatest part of what we eat in America? Or haven't you heard the very popular opinion that McDonald's fries are fantastic—from people whose palates know only that sweet=good (those McD fries are sprayed with sugar solution at the fry factory before being frozen)? Or have you never run across the legions who will turn up their nose at fresh lemonade, because it doesn't taste like Country Time? Or the vast hordes who think that Prego spaghetti sauce on Prince spaghetti with Kraft "parmesan" is anything but disgusting? Yet this is, to echo the dismay of John & Karen Hess, the Taste of America.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                    I'm enjoying reading your posts, but McDonald's fries are sprayed with pure potato starch, not "sugar". Now the ketchup you put on them, that's another story.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                      "t McDonald's fries are sprayed with pure potato starch, not "sugar""

                                                                                                                                                                                      Many thanks for the correction. Good to know that the potato starch is pure.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                        Potato starch is made purely from potatoes, as are french fries obviously. What do you think it is, cake batter? (I'm assuming sarcasm in your post, correct me if I'm wrong) By the way you can get organic potato starch too, if you're a real purist.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                          Yes, sarcasm. Not directed at you, but at the potatoes coated in the stuff.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                            They only do it to keep them crispy, and it works well. By the way, I rarely eat french fries, in case I sound like an enthusiast! In a way you're right, starch turns to sugar when you digest it, so between the potatoes and the potato starch, and the fry oil (whether trans fat or not), I tend to avoid them myself.

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                      what i bridle at is this faux sophistication people think they have by bad-mouthing american food. There are 300,000,000 Americans, over 3 million square miles. That's 50 times as many people over 100 times the area of italy. SO in absolute numbers there is more bad food, and more bad restaurants , and more people who don't care about food than in italy. also more good food, good restaurants, and people who know good food.

                                                                                                                                                                                      again - not every italians nonna was a good cook. not every italian cares. you make these sweeping broad brush statements, that i think are way off from the truth. I think there are plenty of italians who buy the equivalent crap in their markets and plenty of americans who do not dine at mcdonalds. plenty of italians who do eat at mcdonalds and plenty of americans who know good food, not just a tiny minority.

                                                                                                                                                                                      as to you examples - ever have a hamburger in italy? for the most part they suck rancid cow's ass. and from my experience in italy i find the attitude towards food far more provincial and far less global than in the United states. They know italian food, and little else.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                        Thew,

                                                                                                                                                                                        I agree with you that there are people who get a kick out of making fun of American foods (or anything American really).

                                                                                                                                                                                        In italtrav defense, he didn't say there are more good restaurants in Italy in the absolute numbers. He stated there are more good restaurants in Italy in the relative numbers (in percentage).

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                          im just not sure i agree. and as i said , there is certainly less variety in restaurants there. exotic food in italy seems to be if a roman restaurant serves food from pugia

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                            Absolutely true. My Italian mother-in-law (from the extreme north of Italy) never ate pizza until she came to the USA at about 25 (in 1959). But I'm not really sure why a provincial preference for one's traditional food is supposed to be a black mark against the culture, let alone against the quality.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                              I would bet that most of the people that disagree with you have never set foot outside of the states...and if they have, it has been very minimal! I have noticed that most people that stay within their living area are not exposed to different tastes=very small palate.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: six dower

                                                                                                                                                                                                sorry six. i can't speak for others, but i've traveled extensively. all of western europe, some of eastern europe, a lot of time in asia, a little north africa , a little in south america, the caribbean, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                how much did i win in that bet?

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                              one of the worst dining experiences i ever had was at a chinese resto in rome

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                                                                                                I'm not surprised, but now a significant Chinese community is emerging in Rome south of Termini railway station. And I've had some nice "Chinese-Italian" food in Perugia, where many former foreign students have settled in, opening restaurants and other small businesses, making this small central Italian city remarkably cosmopolitan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                I agree with italtrav about the relatively high quality of Italian food (within the Western world - think there are some even more stellar places in Southeast Asia. But more than 20 years ago, after a stay in Paris, coming from Montréal, what I did miss was the availablily of food of any quality - and I DO NOT mean "haute cuisine" - from other cultures.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                                                                  as it happens, it actually was in the termini area, but it was 6-7 years ago, so who knows

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                                                                                                  A colleague told me that the worst pizza he ever had was in a kosher restaurant in Rome (FWIW, I don't think he's Jewish). Maybe "ethnic" is something you want to avoid in The Eternal City? ;)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                                                                                                                                                    An old boyfriend of mine insisted that Chinese-Italian was loads better than Chinese-American. Since I never wanted to "waste" an Italian meal on Chinese food (any more than I'd want to do vice-versa if I ever get to go to China), I never discovered for myself if he was right.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                                                                                                                                                      roman cuisine is HEAVILY influenced by the cuisine of the Roman Jews

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                                                                                                                                                        The kosher restaurants in Rome are not the greatest, but there is some very good kosher pizza al taglio, though of course it has no cheese. In the interest of research some months ago I had a slice with beef sausage and broccoli at Bocconcino Kosher, truly delish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mbfant

                                                                                                                                                                                                          "though of course it has no cheese"

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Interesting - I live in a heavily Jewish neighborhood and the local kosher pizzeria here makes only veggie pizzas, no meat. I would think that the ability to make something as classically Italian as pizza Margherita would incline its Roman counterpart in the same direction.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Specialties like potato pizza aside, I think of cheese as far more essential to pizza than meat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Most of the kosher pizza here has no dairy. I don't actually know any dairy kosher pizza, but there is a new dairy snack place (there is a kosher boom in progress), so that might be where to find it. The only thing essential to pizza is the crust.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                                                                                              "Specialties like potato pizza aside, I think of cheese as far more essential to pizza than meat."

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I'd be inclined to agree with you. Kosher cheese tends to be pretty awful, though, although I had some truly sublime artisanal cheddar a few years back that was certified. I served it to some observant colleagues who were blown away.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                                                                                                of course - pizza is basically a cheese dish, not a meat dish. here in NYC, where we take pizza seriously, most is eaten with no topping other than cheese. I've always thought of excessive toppings as a sign that the pizza does not hold up on its own

                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: mbfant

                                                                                                                                                                                                                the only kosher pizza i had in rome was a cheese pizza

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I'd think that it would be more likely to find a dairy kosher pizzeria than a fleishig one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    i would think so too. but my sampling size was one place, so......

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: MacGuffin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The only kosher pizza places I know here in Montréal, and in Paris, are dairy. I was at them because I was eating with friends who keep kosher.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Same here in NYC although I disagree with thew that we still take it seriously here because it's a lot more difficult to get a decent slice in Manhattan than it used to be. Most pizza has cheese. Even the mozz-free sfinguini (the exception to Detroit's godawful pizza) I get when I'm visiting my folks in Detroit has parmesan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: MacGuffin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I have a Jewish friend that brags about his Italian Lasgana. It's decent, not great except for the qualtiy of cheese he uses. But I find it intresting when I mentioned making a Jewish pastry, it was like the sky was falling and only jews could make real jewish food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Not picking on the Jewish community specificly, I have seen this attitude several times form various friends and aquainteces. Basicly everyone here in America thinks they have some inborn skill to cook really good Italian food becuase they ate Spaghetti - Os as a kid. Simotainiously offended if anyone tries to make a recipe from thier own ethnic background. Of course, none of these people have even been to Italy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I guess making pizza as a kid with store bough pre-cooked pizza dough and sauce makes you an Italian chef in America : - l

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kjonyou

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    i see this in every community - people from the community, whether jewish, italian, chinese, etc think people from outside the community couldn't possibly be able to cook their cultural cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    and plenty of non-italian americans cook excellent italian food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kjonyou

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Well, supposedly the people making kosher pizza in Rome are Italian Jews. It is a very ancient community that began before the destruction of the Temple. Though I'm sure nowadays there are workers of many other origins.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: kjonyou

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        One of my Orthodox friends makes lasagna when I come to dinner (I'm vegetarian). Mind you, it's okay and I appreciate his effort but in no way does it taste like anything authentically Italian (I'm not Italian but grew up in a red-sauce neighborhood), nor has he ever had food that isn't kosher. On the other hand, there's a woman named Leah who has a site called "Leah Cooks Kosher" and who runs a successful kosher catering service. She's an Orthodox convert, which totally blows your friend's most cherished notions. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                              3. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                How is it "faux sophistication" for one to suggest that the level of gastronomy is better in one country than the other? Especially someone with a vast knowledge of both countries in question. The fact is true that you can get good food in most countries in the world just that in some it is a lot easier than others. I agree that there are some people who love to bash American tastes to sound more sophisticated. There are also those Americans who cannot abide the fact that another country, region or people can actually be better at something than they are. It is a two way street and again it is best served with an open mind.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Having traveled throughout the US and Europe quite extensively I have found that there are good and bad places everywhere. However I will agree with Italtrav that it is MUCH easier to find a good restaurant meal in Italy than it is in the United States (not to mention a decent cup of coffee or glass of wine).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  > thew: There are 300,000,000 Americans, over 3 million square miles. That's 50 times as many people over 100 times the area of italy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Italy has 60M people and 116Ksqm ;)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: ioggstream

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I think the maths had a minor decimal point error.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: ioggstream

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      theres a reason i abandoned my dreams of being a scientist

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      that said my actual points remain and i stand by them

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      << again - not every italians nonna was a good cook >>

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You betcha. I would go so far as to say 'Not Many'. The best accolade I can raise is 'competent'. Most old-school nonnas I have met they have a very limited range, do not venture outside of their own (often localised) cuisine and are loathe to experiment except by necessity.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      After stirring that pot, I await the vengence of the mamafiosi.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Sounds like my beloved Midwest. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I resisted just typing LOL! But I bet you're right. There seems to be that romanticized notion that a grandmother, esp. an ITALIAN grandmother, is/was a great cook. I too wait with bated breath to see you ripped from limb to limb :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            If all grandmothers are great cooks, why are so many grandfathers skinny little guys?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Bob W

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Because, by definition, they have grandchildren.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ha! This reminded me of the conversations around my (Italian!) grandmother's kitchen table, where she and her sisters would discuss how Fanny's sauce was too oily and Maria's pepper cookies (excuse the translation - I'm not certain how to spell tarale [sp?]) had too much fennel, etc. All to point out that even the Italian grandmothers didn't think all Italian grandmothers cooked so well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            p.s. - my grandmother was a GREAT cook! :-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Great memory. Much of the food talk in our house could be exactly that--how Mary down the block uses too much oil, or Pauline doesn't really brown her meta before simmering in the ragu. Or how the canned peeled tomatoes in one batch of one brand were somehow better last year (how she remembered remains a mystery). So much of everything depended on dinner, as they say--happiness, personal value, family solidarity, and more--that no one did not take it all seriously.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          3. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I’ve lived much of my adult life overseas and now live in NYC and, while I disagree with your reasoning and examples, I completely agree on the general sentiment regarding the U.S. culinary culture and quality- especially with regards to restaurants. This was also a popular lament among my expat American friends. And many of my well-traveled non-American friends, who raved about food in other countries, consistently complained about food here. Chowhound is an oasis of people who actually love food, but most Americans are just people who love to eat. People like to color the argument that American food is stereotyped, and that might be true with regards to the quality of what's actually available. But sorry, as a food culture, this is the minor league. And this pays out, on a percentage basis, disappointingly when it comes to restaurant dining.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I would argue that Italian cuisine is brilliant and generally tops American cuisine, whatever that may be. But I remain unconvinced that the quality of restaurant food in Italy or France, for the matter of it, is significantly better than in America. I would also argue that any superiority to be found in those two European countries is probably more than negated by the overwhelming variety of choice to be had in America. Nobody can compete with the US in that category.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Yes, quantity and variety are the usual compromised fallbacks in this discussion- as if the myriad of ethnic options around us are actually authentic and/or any good. This thinking is the typical reaction anytime quality differences are brought up and I think underscores what Americans ultimate care about.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  If you are referring to foreign cuisines as variety you are most definitely correct regarding America. There are more "foreign" restaurants in the US. However outside of ethnic enclaves for those particular cuisines you are mostly going to find subpar food. Having a bad Japanese restaurant in Sioux City does not make it better than having a great Salumeria in some remote mountain region of Italy. So I do not think that variety trumps actual good food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I have had the fortune to travel quite a bit through rural and suburban Italy and have found that the restaurant food has been generally very good to excellent. I have also done the same through the US for business and pleasure and cannot say the same. It is actually quite difficult in some places to find anything other than the typical lineup of Applebee's, Chilis and Flingers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MVNYC

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Frankly, if you are seeking an elite sushi experience in Sioux City, you are on a fool's errand. But that was never my point. What I'm saying is you can find a bewildering array of good-to-great ethnic food restaurants in every large metroplitan area in America, and if you do a little research, can find the same thing in most medium-sized American cities. My hometown has a population of ca. 235,000 people, yet it is renowned for its Thai food. Not sure an equivalent sized city in Italy could make an analogous boast.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    PS--When in Rome (or Sioux City) do what the Roman's do. E.g. skip the sushi and seek out the home cooking. You'll find the experience much more rewarding.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My example of sushi in Sioux City was just an example pointing out that while diversity is good it does not mean that you are going to get good ethnic food. I stand by that. Yes you will find gems or regions that have one good ethnic cuisine but these really are not easy to find. Even here in NYC where you can find restaurants of a seemingly endless variety you have to sometimes search pretty hard and travel quite a bit to find the gems.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      When I travel I do seek out what the region is good for, the problem is that even when searching on sites like chowhound it is still somewhat difficult. Good restaurants are not sprouting everywhere you look.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: MVNYC

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        "you have to sometimes search pretty hard and travel quite a bit to find the gems"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        That's the fun part about chowhounding!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Disagree with just about everything you say. Good food is very expensive in Italy. I've spent a lot of time there over the past 40 years, as well as in France and Germany. The Germans and the French both do a much better job of producing fresh, locally-sourced meals than the Italians. If you want to consider the lowest common denominator (which you seem to want to do), I'd rather eat low on the food chain in the U.S. than in Italy. I've certainly been served more sodden, fat-laden, old, food in Italy than here. I also appreciate our health codes, which preclude restaurants serving food that's been left out at very warm room temperature for hours.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  " Good food is very expensive in Italy. I've spent a lot of time there over the past 40 years, as well as in France and Germany. The Germans and the French both do a much better job of producing fresh, locally-sourced meals than the Italians"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Can't answer for Germany and haven't lived in France since the late 60s, but my impression is that both are good for raw ingredients and neither was all that economical. But whether or not the food is expensive is secondary to the original contention, which was that the vast majority of Italians generally care more about the quality of what they eat than does the vast majority of Americans, and that the general quality of restaurants in both countries reflects something of that. To the extent that italian food may be more expensive, I'm inclined to say that that, too, reflects something of the greater willingness of Italians to put their money where their tastebuds are.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  On another level, you will find that in Italy it is comparatively difficult to buy cheap stuff of other kinds as well. There isn't much like 99¢ shops, where you can run in a grab something that isn't very sturdy or likely to last. On the whole, most of the time, overall, Italians prefer to buy well-made things, even if the up-front cost is greater. As an New Yorker who grew up thinking that bargains are a natural right, I sometimes find this frustrating. But it is part and parcel of the Italian way of life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yo, Italtrav! So right about the bargains -- the main reason why my eastbound suitcase is always more stuffed than my westbound suitcase. It's full of Lands End turtlenecks, Duane Reade aspirin, and miscellaneous doodads that would cost a fortune in Italy, if I could even find them. I even buy coffee filters at Dags.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A few points, mainly not addressed to you, with whom I am in utter harmony.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Young Romans are now eating sushi with a vengeance. I am not judging, but am suspicious of the quality. Many of these young Romans would eat anything as long as (a) their friends do and (b) it's cheap.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The only wood-burning pizza oven in Venice (at least a few years ago) was at the Cipriani hotel.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I love the super restaurants and ethnic dives of my native Manhattan (yay soup dumplings! yay pastrami! yay Danny Meyer!), and love to visit friends in New England in the summer and shopping with them at farm stands (yay corn! yay blueberries!). I love American food, in its many aspects. I do, however, draw the line at the super-processed imitation-type products some of my best friends fill their fridges with, to say nothing of those tomatoes bred so they'll bounce when they fall off a truck. Italy has processed food (though less), but more people probably think it's better to eat, say, less real butter than to use imitation butter so you can eat a lot of it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Italian food is mainly not peasant food but urban food. This point is made convincingly in John Dickie's excellent book "Delizia!" People have no idea how poor Italian peasants used to be. Dickie also explains how Italian-American food evolved as a reaction to privation in the old country.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Without wishing to take anything away from anybody else's culture, I am pretty sure the world will concede that there is something special about Italy. May we stipulate a list that begins (for convenience) with the Pantheon, continues through Michelangelo, and ends somewhere around mozzarella di bufala? Many peoples had stale bread and tomatoes there for the taking, but it took the Tuscans to make pappa al pomodoro. Lots of people make noodles, but only the Italians make, and named, tagliatelle and strozzapreti. It took me a few years of living here, but I eventually concluded that it's foolish not to give the Italians the benefit of the doubt when it comes to handling food. I've also found it's easy to underestimate how different Italian food in Italy is from what we Americans think it is, even today with the new wave of Italian-trained restaurateurs. They still have to adapt to American taste and expectation, which is perfectly normal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The people, mostly Americans, who come to me to learn about the Roman approach to food are struck by numerous differences, including:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    - adherence to seasonality
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    - restraint in addition of ingredients and care in combination
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    - unfamiliar varieties of vegetables
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    - reading labels on containers of olive oil, pasta, balsamic vinegar in search of specific characteristics

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    and more of course.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: mbfant

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        my mom makes lists liek this about why jews are special. my irish sis in law does the same for ireland. there is something special about everyplace

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mbfant

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Sempre brava! This has been an enlightening thread, and Maureen adds much to it. I have to agree that seasonality, restraint, product quality, localism, and the pull of tradition (some dare call it entropy), voiced everywhere as a devotion to "prodotti tipici e genuini" shape so much of Italian foodways. If young Romans are eating sushi in packs, this, too, shall pass, although Maureen knows better than most how uniform the Roman table can be. In all our travels, we've been most thrilled by the surprises, whether a stew of baccala, cauliflower, and pumpkin in a small hotel on the Cilento coast; the sight of a solo well-dressed businessman slowly devouring one naked ball of mozzarella in a Naples trattoria; or lunch at my cousin's table in Calabria, where on a sunny spring day we ate only local chick peas with a aide of wild asparagus, local soppressata, fresh pecorino, and the lovely whole wheat pane di grano of nearby Bagnara Calabra. There was a crate of brilliantly colored mandarini, picked along back roads, on the kitchen floor. My cousins are not farm people but small town physicians. Eating this way, with little comment, is one of the things they treasure.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: mbfant

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I've adopted all of the characteristic that you mentioned and eat much better as a result. It's smart to care about food quality, seasonality, etc... I've spoiled myself so much to a local tomato grower, who I only buy from in the summer, that I can eat nothing but Campari or expensive colorful cherry tomatoes off season. I can't stomach anything other than good cheese. I've lost a lot of weight as a result, but am glad.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            From reading and watching a lot of food travel shows, my impression is that people in Western Europe care far more about food quality. I can't wait to travel there simply for the food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              3. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                This argument is hard to get my brain around - look at the size of Italy compared to the United States. I cannot believe that in ALL parts of America convenience trumps all. For goodness sakes, I live in the middle of Nevada. I cook well and with the freshest ingredients I can find (including my own garden). It isn't probably going to be traditional Italian , but it is going to be pretty darn good. Y'all seem to be buying into quite a few stereotypes. This country is just to big to be pidgeonholed that way.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: nvcook

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Amen! To generalize about America is like lumping all of the Mediteranean together. As Reese Witherspoon said in Sweet Home Alabama, "People need a passport to come down here".

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ..along with a shitload of Rolaids.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Yep. That's what keeps the culinary panzies out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Well, "America" is actually far larger than the US.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  No, I don't think restaurants like Olive garden etc. would be as popular in Europe as they are in the US. Food in general doesn't has the same importance in the US as in Europe. The US is the western country where people spend the least percentage of their salary on food. I also don't know any country in Europe where people eat some much "on the run" and don't care too much what they eat. It is pretty common in the US that people go once or twice per week shopping for food whereas in most countries people go every day or every second day shopping for food to have the freshest ingredients. That doesn't mean that there are many people in the US who care a lot about food and that there are also many people in Europe who don't care too much about it. But on average people in Europe are more interested in food and its quality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    spending the smallest percentage of your budget on food does not mean you care less about quality. it means more of your earnings need to go other places, such as into health care, which most of europe has provided to a greater or lesser degree.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    people in the US also tend to shop less frequently because we live in a car culture, more than anyplace else in europe, and do all our shopping in one place. here in NYC where we do not have cars to the degree the rest of the nation does we shop far more frequently

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    and i saw plenty of chains outside the usa - febo in the netherlands, wimpys in england, a plethora in japan, others in germany.....

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      "spending the smallest percentage of your budget on food does not mean you care less about quality." - I disagree. It's a clear indicator of how much people care about food. And I don't want to go too much into politics and urban myths but I pay less for my health insurance in the US than I would do in Germany.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      "people in the US also tend to shop less frequently because we live in a car culture". Again I disagree. Here in California where I currently live a lot of people have many, many good supermarkets closeby but when you talk with them why they only use them once a week they always mention that it is not that important to get absolute fresh ingredients and that freezing stuff isn't bad for the quality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      "and i saw plenty of chains outside the usa - febo in the netherlands, wimpys in england, a plethora in japan, others in germany....." - Nobody said that there are no chains in Europe but by far not so many has here in the US

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Percentage of budget as a measure of interest in high quality food is silly. Wealthy people will often spend a relatively small percentage, even when purchasing the highest quality ingredients. And ask any poor, single working parent of two kids in daycare why they don't spend more on their food, and they'll likely laugh at you (and I am not saying that they don't/can't care about high quality food - creativity and thrift, not expanding the percentage they spend, is a more likely strategy to try to fulfill their interest in good food, if they have it).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Yes, but Western Europeans are also (on average) among the world's wealthiest people, like North Americans north of the Rio Grande.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        thew,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I don't think healthcare is the reason here. Most Americans have healthcare provided to them by their employers (private companies or public sectors). Those who are wealthy enough to buy their own healthcare would be in good position to purchase foods. Those who are poor have medicaid. Those who fall in between usually skip health insurance (which is the whole debate about millions of uninsured). So all in all, the population of which who "cannot buy decent foods because they have to buy individual health insurance" does not make up a huge percentage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          There are way more chains in UK and Germany than in Italy, though the number is rising. Italian chains tend to be pretty bad too, though my only experience is at FCO, where I can never find anything decent to eat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          How much of our eating habits are imposed by our conditions of employment? When you have 1/2 hour for lunch, Olive Garden is a bigass improvement over McD's, Jack, Carl's and the other greasy fried places that abound. You can run in, run out, and fool yourself that you ate a real meal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: ShepherdBGoode

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I guess it depends on the work you do and your physiology, but I wouldn't want a full meal on a half-hour lunch break. Too many calories, and I'd rather save money to spend on non-chain restaurant food and home-cooked food I can take the time to enjoy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Indeed, getting back to the original topic, while globalisation and the EU are changing this, many Italian workers still have longer lunch breaks so they can take the time to eat a real meal, slowly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Here I often see Italian (and Portuguese) builders eating very appetizing lunches - more calories than I need, but they are doing physical work, not typing all day on a computer. Good sandwiches, often a salad, always fruit - but probably packed by their wife ... before she heads off to her own job!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Can I stir the pot a bit more with this quote?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      "Buca di Beppo® is an authentic Italian restaurant ...Dishes enjoyed for generations in villages throughout Italy inspire our menu, giving Buca its authentic Italian fare. "

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Their serving sizes are large, but meant to be shared. You could order the whole sequence of courses (antipasti, pasta, entre, dolci etc).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I went to Buca a couple of years ago for a wedding rehearsal dinner - it was better than some Italian restaurants I've been too, and worse than others. The thing I remember most was the wax bust of the Pope in a glass box in the middle of the table on a lazy susan to facilitate sharing...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          OMG.... a wax bust of Ratze would definitely spoil my appetite --

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            It was bizarre... This was soon after J2P2 passed, and the Ratze bust was fresh (for lack of a better word). It must have been a humid day when they swapped out the busts b/c there was condensation in the glass box - made it look like the Pope was breathing...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                3. When I was in Italy 6 years back, during a visit to Pisa, the restaurants/eateries very close to the entrance of the leaning tower offered Italian food to tourists....literally pre-cooked lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, and pretty horrendous looking pepperoni pizza. When you pay, they microwave it for you, and it comes out lukewarm. I don't know if this is meant to make fun of American tourists, or akin to setting up a Mickey's in Pisa, but really slim pickins unless you are willing to navigate the outskirts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  American Italian in the US seems to be just one style of restaurant for the most part (of course there are exclusively pizza joints and other exceptions). In Italy you have trattoria, osteria, ristorante, pizzeria (and more), and they can be equally confusing to a lot of folks. For most trattoria and ristorante, it's not like you can walk in and order a plate of pasta and call it a day....they expect you to make a full course meal out of it...appetizer, primo piatti, secondi, perhaps a contorno (vegetable side dish) dessert and maybe an espresso or nightcap. It's this hassle that sometimes drives me to sneaking out a piece of bread from the hotel breakfast buffet along with some cured meat, rather than pay an exorbitant amount for a crusty local sandwich during lunch, that isn't much better.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I don't recall seeing spaghetti with meatballs in various parts of Italy that I visited. If anything the meatballs and pasta were served separately at the non tourist type places. Old world Italian food has more regional varieties, and more versions/variations of lesser known types of pasta beyond spaghetti, cappellini, linguine, ravioli, spaghettini, fettucine, penne, lasagne, cannelloni, macaroni, large shell, rigatoni, ziti, gnocchi (examples of the more commonly seen pastas at American Italian places).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Also eggplant or chicken or veal parmigiana....is that American Italian? Ditto for Fettucine Alfredo (aka cream sauce heavy tasting pastas)?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Loved Mama Leone's! Too longo ago to remember what that meal consisted of exactly, but it was like small portions of a huge multi-course of finesse, refinement, that was upscale American Italian, but way better than anything American Italian I've had ever since.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: K K

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To me, Italian American is made at home and served Sundays in the late afternoon, lasting well into the evening. I myself don't base it so much on restaurants, but what Grandma and Aunt Sophie and Aunt Lily made. One from Naples, one from Sicily, one from Abruzzi, so how could you call it all one cuisine? Spaghetti and meatballs (and sausage and braciole of course) for ordinary days, but much more variety on holidays. I was always told that they don't make meatballs in Italy, so that's the American part I guess. But there was always other meat in the pot too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I believe Fetticini Alfredo was invented in Rome. Although it was not creamy or heavy like some places here make it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      meatballs exist in italy (and almost every other culture in the world that has meat) they are called polpette. and in the south of italy, which is where american italian food is rooted, sometimes they are even served with pasta.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Rarely served with pasta, meat is always a separate course. I've seen them baked into casseroles like lasagna I think.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. My thought is that in Italian-American restaurants, the progression of the meal is different. It's more app/salad, entree then dessert, while authentic Italian restaurants have primi, secondi, contorni (sp? sorry). Of course, the pasta portions are very different, and everything is not on one plate.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I remember being perplexed ordering at a real Italian restaurant the first couple of times. My experience growing up in the NE part of the country afforded me only Americanized versions of the real thing.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    But, I still dig spaghetti with meatballs and a plate of chicken parm that's overflowing the plate. When I visit my hometown of Philadelphia, I enjoy the local mom and pop's, right down to the side of spaghetti, slathered with generic sauce and accompanied by nearly tasteless powdered parm in a shaker jar!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Hey, sometimes you can go back home, culinarily speaking, that is
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. Even the Italians don't eat like the Italians of yore. My friend from Northern Italy went back for the first time since his mid-20s and said that everyone in his town is now health conscious.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      John said that his extended family and friends are now cutting calories. Gone are the huge plates of polenta and pasta replaced with leaner cuts of meat and more vegies.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Though he missed the food, for the first time he didn't come back to the States 20 pounds heavier.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. If you're asking about home cooking, the answer is complicated by different histories: "American Italian" home food cooked by Italian-Americans is almost impossible to snapshot: after, say, 80 years, Italian American families that proudly eat "authentic" are usually eating a time-capsuled, mostly Neapolitan or generically Southern cuisine with endless variants--most all of them proudly defended as "real, form nonna". May be. But the vast majority of the 20+ million Italians ended up cooking Italian dishes, and eating in ways, they never did in Italy, except for occasional festive specialities. Calabrians and Genoese both became Italians here. Material abundance, chages in products/sources, more mobility, cooking for hordes of hungry American customers, and other factors, plus mixing with non-Italian worlds sort of settled a middle of the road repertoire, agaion, wth countless "tradtional" variants, many based on regional cultures later generations here know nothing of. In Italt today, regional dishes still hold, but there's a great and, for Italy, unprecedented move to a more national cuisine--leaner, more expensive, even more cosmopolitan, just as it now honors and supports local/"genuine" cheeses, meats, breads, and other foods. Not everyone eats antipasto/primo/secondo--certainly hardly at all in the evening, when a pizza will do. So some styles converge (and eggplant parmigiana is a native dish, as are meatballs, even with (after) pasta). Restaurant cooking is a whole different ball game, what with the relatively recent influx of once-prohibited Italian products, of young Italian cooks, and the exposure of American travelers of all backgrounds to la cucina italiana. Here, simple old dishes (plain polenta, pasta with potatoes, or beans and greens) drop out, replaced by new waves of invented traditions.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Another difference might be the universal Italian obsession with the dish they're eating--their table talk is not always based on any superior knowledge, but is driven by a value for properly made dishes and quality ingredients.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Are you guys that are complaining that Italian-American food is too sweet eating at decent Italian-American restaurants or are you eating fuckin' Franco-American Spaghettios? Red sauce Italian can be "oversauced" compared to what you get in Italy but it isn't necessarily sweet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            F'in FA Spaghettios! As a kid, Mom used to serve Chef Boyardee canned ravioli (I think Spaghettios, too) every once in a blue moon, when say, she and Dad would be eating liver and didn't make me eat it (still hate it).
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            That junk food was SO rare*, that it was a treat to me. Now, I'd gag, of course, but I remember digging in!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Beenie Weenies, or Franks n Beans was another junk food I was allowed, but it was not very often.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I truly do appreciate her cooking just about every single night, and spaghetti and homemade meatballs was part of her balliwick of recipies. Also steak Parmesan (a fave!)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Hah, funny post toomuchfat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Of course you're right.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ditto, BiscuitBoy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Commercial Italian-American tomato sauces nearly always contain added sugar. On the whole, tomato sauce recipes in this country list sugar as an ingredient. This is an attempt to make up for the sauce-making deficiencies of American tomatoes. I've had great tomato sauce in America, both in homes and restaurants, but it's the exception, not the rule, and delicate tomato sauces are practically unknown here.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I've eaten Spaghetti-os (sp?), but not since I was at Boy Scout camp about 45 years ago. Can't even begin to imagine why I would do so today. I once brought a can of spaghetti to a friend in Italy as a joke. Couldn't get him to do more than sniff at the stuff.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  That's more than you could get me to do with an octopus dredged up from a Venetian lagoon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Good—more for me! And pass the cuttlefish, while you're at it, in the cuttlefish ink sauce. And some of those cute little crabs. And the langoustines. I'd kill for anything even approaching the Rialto fish market in NYC!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. Real Italian food is mostly peasant food, simple, nutritious fare that many holier-than-thou foodie types would have turned up their noses at 20 yrs ago. Things like panna cotta, pasta fagiola, dandelion greens, broccoli rabe, escarole and beans, risotto, tomato and biscotti. As an Italian American, I find it amusing to see people actually going to restos and paying top dollar for stuff like this, and suddenly becoming experts because they overpaid for a meal at places like del posto or raos. And don't get me started on folks who happen to travel to Italy, eat a few local dishes, and have the nerve to put out a cookbook, presiding like lord of master of the cuisine. I wouldn't read an Asian cookbook written by joe johnson, so why would I give any cred to an Italian cookbook author named ira goldberg...le persone sono pazze

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                43 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  because joe johnson or ira goldberg might just be excellent chefs, well versed in the cuisine?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Always exceptions, but not likely to see joe johnson at any of the momofukus or matsuri

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    So Diana Kennedy can't be an expert in Mexican cooking and Fuschia Dunlop can't be expert in Chinese cooking? Ok, I'm glad you've set me straight.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: bookhound

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Those who can, DO...those who can't, well, you know!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I'm confused now. So it's okay for Kennedy to write and teach about Mexican food but not cook that kind of food?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: bookhound

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I'm afraid BuscuitBoy is dead wrong on this one. Clearly someone such as Fushcia Dunlop (Sichuan), or Julia Child (French), or Rick Bayliss (Mexican), can be and is an expert on those cuisines. Who is going to tell anyone that Julia Child's interpretation of French food cannot be trusted to be authentic? Nonsense.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I think one fundamental problem that has been brought out by this thread is the tendency we all have to employ shortcuts in our thinking. The term "Italian food" is thrown about, but in fact there is no such thing as "Italian" food. Italy as a monolithic thing is a political concept, not a cultural or culinary one, and a fairly recent one at that, really having been finally unified around 1870. But is was and remains an amalgam of many different states, each with its own history, culture, and cuisine. The tomato-sauce based dishes of the south are either unknown or actively avoided in the north. The immigrants to the Northeast US came predominantly from the South, tho I believe the community on the west coast came largely from more northerly areas. So "Italian" food is thought, in the US, to be tomato-sauce based, while in Italy itself this is confined to a limited area. It is pointless to get into discussions of "authenticity" when the basic term "Italian food" is actually meaningless, or at least very poorly defined. Further confusion is created when the discussion turns to foods that aren't even Italian by any definition, such as spaghetti and meatballs, which were created here but so long ago that everybody accepts them as "Italian" (there are some limited but true Italian precursors, but not at all the dish as it is made in the US).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: johnb

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Italian food, in my experience, varies hugely from region to region, although obviously you can get a decent pizza and plate of pasta pretty much everywhere.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I always think of spaghetti with meatballs as being American-Italian. And huge pizzas dripping with cheese.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: greedygirl

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Actually, although pizza is now widespread, getting great pizza in, say Venice, is analogous to finding fabulous BBQ in Minneapolis or cioppino in Dubuque. It's possible, but not all that likely. And if you asked a Neapolitan about Venetian pizza, he'd be at risk of death from laughing way too hard.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I found the pizza in Venice to be superb, probably better than the best I found while living in New Jersey. And a friend of mine, who is a medieval art historian specializing in the ecclesiastical art of Naples, found the pizza in Naples (sodden and undercooked) to be repulsive.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  And I'm sure there is terrible BBQ to be had in Memphis and a fabulous place somewhere in Bangor. But, as you should have already read from mbfant, there is only a single wood-fired oven in all of Venice, pizza is not remotely native to the city (although some fine Neapolitan pizza-maker could have moved up there), and so your friend's experiences are (to say the least) odd—and at odds with the opinion of virtually all Italians. Few Venetians, however proud of their city, would boast of the quality of pizza veneziana.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Napoli is, literally, the birthplace of pizza and, according to most fans of the food, *the* place to seek it out. I myself have eaten a passable pizza in Venezia (once) and a good many fabulous pizzas in Napoli, Pompei, Pozzuoli and other points from Roma south. And that is the the norm.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I'm going to Calabria in a week's time - can't wait to try me some Neapolitan pizza! Although there is a very good (and renowned) Neapolitan style pizzeria complete with wood-fired ovens 5 minutes from my house in London. It will be interesting to compare.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: greedygirl

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Enjoy your trip to Calabria (we visit family there often) but don't be surprised if la vera pizza napoletana isn't everywhere--it's often treated as a kind of exotic speciality, although pizzerie, obviously, are everywhere--had a very good wood oven but not Neapolitan pie in Tropea.. I've been treated wth great pride to pizza at a very popular pizzeria/birreria in Reggio di Calabria that was really closer to, say, Bertucci's here than Brandi in Naples. But it was good eating and my family enjoyed it. So did I. On the other hand, the pecorino and 'nduja and swordfish and stocco al forno and maccheroni con ragu and peperoncino...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I can't resist pointing out here that my own present "image" or "avatar" for Chowhound is from a sign at a pizza shop in Venice, advertizing a Pizza Americana" that features bacon and eggs, the latter of which (eggs) hardly any American puts on a pizza.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Just keeping the tangled web going...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I think we often get hung up on the notion that a particular food can only be found at its acme in its native locale. Now I will be the first to admit that there is some truth to this--I would never order Texas chili in Genova--but then I don't believe Venice and Naples are so disparate that superior pizza has not managed to migrate the thousand or so miles from the latter to the former.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Now what's interesting about my friend's experience in Naples is the fact that the pizza recommended to her was done so by a native Neapolitan and professor at the university there (Univ. of Naples?). My friend bit into this pie and commented that it seemed soggy and underdone. Her friend said, "Yes! That's the way it's supposed to be! Isn't it delicious?" My friend departed Naples none too impressed with pizza from the cradle of pizzahood!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          exactly right. "authentic" does not mean better. having spent a great deal of time in india over the years i'd have to say i've had plenty of authentic indian food that was not good. low quality ingredients. poor technique. etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          all references to a golden age in the past are fantasy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            "I don't believe Venice and Naples are so disparate that superior pizza has not managed to migrate the thousand or so miles from the latter to the former."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I think you ought to believe it. Italian cookery is intensely local, and I'm very reluctant to conclude much about Neapolitan pizza from your friend's limited experience. I'm also reminded of Enzo Biaggi's description of a moment from a postwar Italian film, an old lady leaning from a train window to call out this warning: "Sono cattive gente a Melanu—mangiano riso!" [There are evil folk in Milano—they eat rice!]. Meantime, how is it that decent pastrami doesn't migrate from NYC to Atlanta?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              "Meantime, how is it that decent pastrami doesn't migrate from NYC to Atlanta?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              because people don't care enough to insist on a better product. it isn't impossible to do, just hasn't been worth the expense

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                How is it that what some consider the best pizza in the world is found at Pizza Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona of all places, yet it cannot hop the Po and find its way to Venice?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Now I know Italian food is quite regional, but I find the notion of fine pizza's absence from Venice--how shall I say it?--hard to swallow.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  For Perilaghu Khan: When I ask why myself you would insist on any point about Venice (or Italy) without having been there, I can only conclude that there is something you actually wish to believe about it, about Italy, and/or about food regions more generally. And from reading your other posts, I can see that you are impatient with people who complain in potentially snobby tones about how things here or there just aren't good enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I do support your disposition to look on the bright side of each environment. I agree that food culture in the USA is massively and obviously expanded beyond what it was a few decades ago. Also, like you, I find it very tedious when people complain about what's on offer in various regions--like when I moved from CA to Michigan and met numerous cranky expatriated New Yorkers who couldn't find a decent bagel. It's true that NY style bagels are hard to find in MI (and I love them, although in CA I also had not exprienced them), but it's ugly to moan and complain. To my thinking, I thought people should just take note of the corn, peaches, blueberries, morels, tart cherries, etc., of Michigan, and get in touch with where they are!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  All that said, I also feel that you are resisting some facts, and without due grounds. Europeans in general are very local and proud about food traditions, and a Neapolitan pizza joint in Venice, if it exists, would be even a bit more far out than a North Carolina barbecue joint opening up in Seattle. It can happen, but it's rare, not routine, liable to be unappreciated, and perhaps outright non-existent or short-lived.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  A tangential example: when I lived for a year or so in Germany, I noticed that one of the terrific local bakeries started to offer some turnover pastries that they called Quarktaschen (a kind of cream cheese turnover). Then suddenly they stopped offering them. I went in for a few weeks asking for them, and was told several times that they didn't have any. Eventually, I understood that they only made these for two or three weeks per year. Maybe they were a Lenten item. In any case, I was very provoked as an American, because all I could think was that here was this great pastry and people would surely buy it all year around if it were on offer. But that bakery would never dream of making those things simply because they could sell more. The issue for them was the tradition.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    And I've had great pizza in Germany, particularly Munich -- lots of Italian immigrants.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Just for the record--and I thought I had made this point earlier--I have been to Venice and I have eaten a great deal of pizza there. Indeed, the first meal I ate in Venice was at a tiny, and very jam-packed pizza joint very close to the Accademia. It was marvelous.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And a second point: I'm more skeptical that great pizza doesn't exist in Venice (having eaten the stuff!) than I am about a carbon copy of Neapolitan pizza not existing in Venice, although I find both arguments a bit of a stretch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Sorry to have overlooked any point at which you said you'd been there. I'm not always clear about such points in these very long threads, and something about your phrasing was maybe making me think otherwise. My bad.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          No big deal. I've made the same mistake on some of these Tolstoyan threads.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I will hope someday to get to Phoenix. I'm sure it is good pizza. I am, however, skeptical of pretty much all claims that ______ is the best pizza/cheesecake/hamburger/chopped liver/espresso in the world. Barring an agreed-upon standard, these are all impossible sorts of determinations—as when, some years ago, Patricia Wells foolishly announced that Da Fiore in Venice was not merely the best restaurant in Venice, but in all of Italy. For the rest, I think Bada Bing says just below everything else I could usefully add on this topic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Amen. Those superlatives give me the pip. I think it's possible to establish criteria for excellence, but after that it's a matter of preference. After all, there's always something one hasn’t tried yet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    3. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      "Now I know Italian food is quite regional, but I find the notion of fine pizza's absence from Venice--how shall I say it?--hard to swallow."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      It wouldn't surprise me. I think this is a fair parallel: I have access to more varieties of German beer in a single take-out store in the United States than my friend living in Germany has in the entire city of Hamburg. That is not an exaggeration.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This speaks to the hyper-locality of European food/drink traditions and the amazing appetite for variety and new tastes of Americans. Both have their place and should be celebrated.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: barryg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        You have access to hunderds of beers from Germany in a single store ? I come from Hamburg and there are single beer shops which have far more than 100 beers available. The "hyper-locality" might be real in certain very small parts of Europe but you can't generalize it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          No, not hundreds, so I humbly stand corrected. Without getting too OT: What shops in Hamburg offer this selection?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    4. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      But that's not how my native Neapolitan friend describes their pizza. It's worth noting that because of the thin crust and the juicy, olive-oil rich sauce, the best Neapolitan pizza I've had needed to be eaten within 5-10mins from the oven or it would indeed become soggy. But in that 5min window fresh from the oven, it was glorious.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: limster

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        It sounds great. And I hope to be able to experience this in person some day soon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        My. God.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I have spent a grand total of 8 hours in Italy, and it was in Naples, 1967. I could hardly wait to get a slice of real Napoli pizza, as the guys from Jersey and Providence had been braggin' it up all the way over. And it was soggy and underdone. And now you're telling me that it was supposed to be that way? Yoy, and double yoy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: ShepherdBGoode

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I've had excellent pizza in Naples, in Rome, and even in Perugia. You can have a bad meal anywhere, especially in heavily-touristed areas. I had dreadful, overpriced pizza in Venice - yes, of course I knew it wasn't at all a Venetian dish, but the supposedly authentic restaurants in the city centre were far too expensive. I had a very good meal the next day at a small restaurant recommended by a Venetian lawyer who was a colleague of friends in Italy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      3. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        "And I'm sure there is terrible BBQ to be had in Memphis and a fabulous place somewhere in Bangor."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The former is a certainty, the latter is highly unlikely.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        There's lots of bad pizza in NYC, lots of bad Cuban food in Miami, and lots of bad seafood on Cape Cod. But do you think there's a great bagel to be had in Oklahoma City?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        My chowhounding motto has always been two-fold:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Go native. (Forget the bagel in OKC.)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Trust but verify. (Go for barbecue in Memphis, but use resources to find the good stuff, since it's not all good. In the pre-Internet days, I actually used to pick barbecue places out of the Yellow Pages when traveling through the Carolinas.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: bookhound

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I think what BiscuitBoy meant is that there are "folks who happen to travel to Italy, eat a few local dishes, and have the nerve to put out a cookbook". This is true.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  He also said, "I wouldn't read an Asian cookbook written by joe johnson, so why would I give any cred to an Italian cookbook author named ira goldberg". This is maybe true in BiscuitBoy's case but it's a ridiculous statement.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: bookhound

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Opinions vary...I'm just a bit more particular who I would deem "expert", and where my book dollar goes. And you can be an expert in a scholarly way, or master of the craft, alla bayliss, tsai, pepin, even stellino

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      So one has to run a restaurant to be a "master of the craft"?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Why waste $ on most cookbooks when you can borrow quite them from your local library for free.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: bookhound

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        It sure is. There's mostly junk out there, independent of ethnicity, and the cliched Tuscan farmhouse wet dream "memoir" is now officially a joke. But show me a better US-authored book on the food of Naples than Arthur Schwartz's, or on Sicily's than Mary Taylor Simeti's or on Liguria's (or Friuli's) than Fred Plotkin's or on Italian wine than Burton Anderson's. The list goes on, even if we respect and love Italian American authors like Viana LaPlace, David Ruggiero, Nancy Verde Barr, Lidia Bastianich, ecc.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Jeez, as an Italian American who grew up eating lenticchie e pasta in the Brooklyn 1950s/60s, I'm the first to sniff out culinary pretention and fakery. But I also cringe at the crimes committed in the name of la cucina nostra by my fellow ethnics. Memory is not history, nor is what nonna used to make for la vigilia always a benchmark of, well, authenticity or tradition or quality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              3. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                There's a sense in which Italian cooking has a substantial heritage from a place that was until very recently largely agrarian and not particularly affluent, but to say that "real Italian food is mostly peasant food" overstates the case. There are plenty of bourgeois roots, let alone the Sicilian Monzù cookery of the aristocrats, e.g. I don't know Goldberg or his book, but there is no reason whatsoever that a foreigner can't become an expert in some other cuisine—with example of both writers and chefs too numerous to mention. I agree that people are crazy, but as a non-Italian American, allow me to suggest that "le persone sono pazze" is literal, but scarcely idiomatic. I'd offer, "È pazzesco, il mondo" or more likely the gentler, "paese che vai, usanza che trovi."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Among my friends we say 'paesi che vai, cibi che mangi'. But then again, we're chowhounds ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: pdxgastro

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Thanks for the variant. I'll have it embroidered on my escutcheon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: italtrav

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    "Il mondo è bello perché è vario" is another relevant expression. Often used ironically.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. When I think of typical American-style Italian cuisine, I think of the Spaghetti Warehouse chain.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. I dont know about you, but I get tired of relitives living on the East Coast visiting Californa alwasy complaining they cant get good pizza or italian food here. Since most of them have never even been to Itally, I find it an extreemly bizarr rationalization that that real Italin food only comes from Jersey. When I point out ther version is an adaptation of another country, they somehow see it as an improvment they made, but think no one else can do the same or its just not real.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kjonyou

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I imagine it's somewhat analogous to the Westcoasters who like to come East and then complain about the lack of good Mexican food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: kjonyou

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        That is odd, giving the old Italian farming and winemaking colonies in California, and the Mediterranean climate where most Italian products (including olives) can be grown.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. I don't know what real Italian food is, but for quintessential Italian-American food and ambiance, just take one look at Sabatino's in Chicago. Actually, Sabatino's is what comes to my mind when I think of the word, "restaurant". The place is super-old school in a Rat-Packish way, with low lighting, a piano lounge, violin guys who stroll around the dining rooms, red wine on the tables, etc. I don't remember if the tablecloths are red-and-white-checked but it is the kind of place where they should be.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The food is a solid rendition of the classics, like Chicken Vesuvio, veal saltimbocca, lasagne made with ricotta, spaghetti and meatballs, etc. Portions are large and meat-heavy which I guess might be an indicator of the American influence. Oh and I'm pretty sure they don't eat desserts like Bananas Foster or Baked Alaska in Italy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Sure sounds like my kind of place. The antithesis of the precious and the mincing that seems to define fine dining in the Western world today.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            If you ever make it to Chicago, definitely try it out. I consider Sabatino's a Chicago must-visit. Not for the food necessarily, which is "just" competently done Italian-American with no surprises, but for the whole package of food, service, and atmosphere. Most entrees are only like $18-20 so you won't go broke there either.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            This is definitely a place to convice people who find no value in americanized ethnic cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. I think I really respected Italian food more after I read "Heat" by Bill Buford.... the 2nd half at least where he goes to Italy and learns to cook

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. I admit to liking real italian and americanized italian ... just like sometimes I want the sweet over the top chinese food..... I'm happy I live in a country where I have so many options.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Firegoat

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I'm with you. Here in Beijing, I sometimes just want a food court bourbon chicken combo plate, with greasy green beans, and a huge-ass blistered egg roll filled with cabbage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. The year was 1994. A bunch of us drove from Philly to Boston's North End to watch the World Cup Final. One of my friends is from Florence, Italy. While there I asked him did he feel at home here. He asked "why"? I responded "well many of the signs are in Italian and you can hear some Italian being spoken". He interrupted "yeah but this is Italian culture from 100 hundred years ago with American culture mixed in. I'm a modern Italian".
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              And having traveled to Rome, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Venice "Italian" food is very different from region to region there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              15 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I understand his perspective. I live with an Italian family. They came out of Italy after the second world war. The depression and grinding poverty of Southern Italy from Abruzzo South to Sicily forced many to leave, ripping apart families. This diaspora led my SO's family to spread out across Italy, Sicily, Argentina, Germany, USA, Canada and a few other places.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                They took their recipes, beliefs and prejudices with them. When they arrived in Argentina, New York, Boston and Toronto they found (and founded) communities. For many years these thrived till the succeeding generations gradually shed their Italian lifestyles. So my FIL speaks little English after leaving Italy over 50 years ago. A day without pasta is a day without sun. Polenta is fine. Risotto is good, but almost no other rice dish is acceptable. Red meats are unusual except for veal cutlets and sausages. Snails are good. So is calimari, plain pizza, fried (coated) fish and vegetable soups. Anything can be slow braised in tomato sauce. But after that we are at his culinary event horizon. Nothing is ever rare.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Here in Toronto, fast-food by-passed that generation. Italian cafes sprang up, staffed and visited solely by Italians. The Greeks and Eastern Europeans had their own. Home cooking was the norm, at least until the pizza factories arrived. This quick, cheap and satisfying meal migrated from mamma and papà places aimed at Italians to the chains we know to day, although the independents still thrive.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Meanwhile the other cheap and cheerful food - pasta - also went mainstream. And the reason was because it was cheap and cheerful. In Italian households it was still served as a first course. It took the place of the potato of Northern Europeans, except it was split out from the main meal. It was the filler prior to the expensive part of the meal. But America (and Canada and now Europe) cannot resist large quantities. Pasta became the meal in itself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                We tend to forget that Italy is only 150 years old and its foodstuffs varied dramatically from the Alps to Sicily. Much of the traditional food came of necessity in terms of preservation and storage. But the bit that came to the USA was mainly Southern Italy. The better-educated and wealthier Northern Italians, with their wider variety of foods had less emigration.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                My idea of Italian restaurants was formulated in London, UK. The menus were almost identical, from antipasto to zabaglione, with the obligatory frutti di mare embedded somewhere within.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Then (35 years ago) I went to work in Italy and France and ate in their restaurants - but not their houses. The restaurants were of differing types: breakfast joints, cafes, bakeries, trattorias and ristorantes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Fast forward twenty years to Miami. An Italian restaurant was a chain or a pizza place. Somewhere like Cami's where you pick and perm your pasta and meat/chicken/seafood before finally deciding on red, white or pink sauce. It felt as Italian as a Cornish pastie.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Move on 5 years to Toronto. Here, some Italian restaurants, run by Italians, survive. I guess that is true in New York and Boston. But they generally resemble each other, carved out of a Southern Italian heritage and a population's belief of what an 'Italian Restaurant' looks like.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Time to shut up before I offend even more people.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  actually, pasta went mainstream because of prohibition. Italian mom and pop spaghetti places were allowed to some degree to serve wine. it was some of the only legal alcohol available. so spaghetti places became very very popular

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    One lives and learns. I hadn't realised wine was available during prohibition. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad after all.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And my affection for spaghetti places grows ever more ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Wine was served at Italian restaurants during Prohibition?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Wine was served at Speak Easys during prohibition and many of these were run by immigrants. Italians made up a large portion of these and they served the food they knew only with more protein and as a main dish. So while it was illegal it still managed to spread the love of pasta.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: MVNYC

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I didn't realize that speak easys served food. Thanks for the info.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I just had to check up on something...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The plural is speakeasies. What a strange looking word. Looks like a Greek desert.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I didn't realize that there was a desert in Greece.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Once more my petard is on hoisting overtime.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    a little peppermint or ginger should help with that

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      But I have heard that inserting peppermint into one's petard can be quite painful.